AUTHOR'S NOTE: Third Story in the series "The Ranger" This story is complete.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Ranger, Part 3: Showdown
Admiral Alynna Necheyav was happy as a clam, but at the same time, mad as hell. The dichotomy actually made her smile.
The operation on Covis III hadn't turned up Seven of Nine, but the information gleaned from first Commander Ozi's canvas, followed up by the Special Forces operation, had deposited a treasure trove of information that she could use.
She knew now that Kathryn Janeway, her old, hated nemesis, was more than likely hiding Seven of Nine from The Federation. It was possible that Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres were with them. From this, she could make an educated guess that Owen Paris very well could be involved in this.
She now knew that Janeway had co-opted one of these technological marvels that were being built on Covis III (correction, she thought icily, that were no longer being built), and had the ability to nimbly hide from anyone. Her engineers were picking apart the two ships that had been lifted from Covis III, and already were salivating at how advanced those ships were: slipstream drives that The Federation had yet to perfect; ablative armor far better than what her fleet had; an astonishing shield capability that could protect multiple vessels.
On top of all that, a cloaking system that the Klingons and Romulans would drool over. Not only was the cloak infinitely better than what those two powers had, but it could fire while cloaked. No one had seen that since the battle between the U.S.S Excelsior, under the command of Hikara Sulu, and an experimental ship at Khitomer a century earlier.
All that information made Necheyav nod in satisfaction, but so much was still unknown.
Where were Seven and Janeway?
Who was backing them? They couldn't be operating as rogues.
Was anyone in Starfleet or The Federation involved?
Had the Fenris Rangers, and by extension, the planet of Fenris, acquired these advanced ships, making it easy for them to hit targets without warning?
How at risk was Section 31's own XB prison from an attack?
She needed those answers, and quickly. The time for subtleties were over. It was time for The Federation under her orders to flex it's military muscles to get those answers.
Within a few hours after receiving the devastating news from Covis III, a shaken B'Elanna Torres had initiated the heavily Borg-encrypted subspace message that would find it's way to Seven of Nine and Kathryn Janeway. The mere thought that The Federation now had two of their coveted ships disturbed both she and her husband, Tom Paris, to no end.
The only comfort to B'Elanna was that it would take the engineers at San Francisco, Utopia Planetia, or McKinley Station a long time to figure out how many of the systems worked. Any decent pilot could fly the ship, but there were so many advanced, Borg-like encryption throughout the infrastructure of those ships that it would be slow-going, at least insofar as The Federation mass producing their own version of those ships.
They had some time. Not a lot, but they did have some.
Now they were trying to make plans.
"I was up all night," Tuvok explained to them, "to try and sort out a logical path forward as to what our priorities should be. I must tell you that I am not certain as to exactly where to start."
Tom groaned. "If you don't have any idea, Tuvok, then we're dead in the water."
Tuvok shook his head. "I did not say I was bereft of any ideas, Mr. Paris, but that there are so many variables now that, quite frankly, it's hard to sort out what step should be taken first."
B'Elanna understood all that, and she agreed-she and Tom had been up all night trying to make sense of all this. "Look, we're probably doing the same thing as everyone else that's opposed to The Federation right now: wondering where to start. It would make sense that the Admirals on Earth, as well as Kathryn and Seven, when they get my message, will be planning as well. The news will also reach Fenris, and the rest of the Quadrant quickly."
"What are you saying, B'El?" He husband wasn't sure if he understood.
"I'm saying that San Francisco has obviously raised the stakes, so I think it's time we did too. We're going to have to be bolder now, and take a few more risks."
Tuvok look her dead in the eyes. "Such as?"
B'Elanna didn't flinch. "Such as a meeting of the principles that we know of so far: Kathryn and Seven; Admirals Paris, Riker, Patterson, and Jellico, and whoever else they might have; at least on of the starship captains that Tom and I, or Riker, have contacted, like Ayala or Nicoletti; even the Fenris Rangers and the Fenris government. We can't have this half-assed, separated response any longer."
Tuvok pondered that for a few moments. "I had considered that, Ms. Torres, but I had originally dismissed it as too rash, but hearing the words coming from someone else, I believe there is merit to that proposal. It will be risky, and it will be complicated to accomplish with our forces so widely scattered."
"Then we un-scatter them, Tuvok, and quickly."
Tuvok had the capability within his home to bring The Doctor online with his mobile emitter, and he was needed now. They quickly filled him in on the latest.
"This is what happens when someone can de-activate you: you miss all the fun." The Doctor hadn't lost his biting sarcasm.
"I have a feeling, Doctor, that you will be quite active of the next few weeks and months, keeping in mind that it is imperative that San Francisco doesn't realize that you're anywhere but at Starfleet Medical."
"I agree Mr. Tuvok," The Doctor rejoined. "I suppose I'm making a long distance house call to Earth in the very near future?"
Tuvok nodded. "That is correct, but at least not for a few days. We are working on contacting the scattered remnants of our allies to see if, and when, we can hold a council of war. Once we have heard back from everyone, then I believe your services can be greatly used on Earth for a short while."
"Oh, goody," the EMH said with no enthusiasm. "Have you heard back from anyone yet?"
"We haven't," Tom interjected. "Our message went out only about six hours ago. I'm sure like us, everyone else is still trying to digest what happened on Covis III."
"That makes sense," The Doctor agreed. He turned to B'Elanna. "I know, up to now, information on the ship that you have, and the one Kathryn and Seven have has been on a need to know basis, B'Elanna. I believe that now that I need to know-everything about these ships."
B'Elanna didn't hesitate. "Agreed. You'll have a leg up on The Federation. They're trying to figure out how those ships work-they can operate them, but they can't build them-not yet. The knowledge I will download to you will give you complete access to Icheb I and the Phantom. When you go to Earth, you can pass that information on to Owen and the other Admirals."
"I understand. I haven't flexed my ECH matrix in quite some time." The last part was said with more that a little pride, as he'd been used as an Emergency Command Hologram on a few occasions on Voyager. He was, for a hologram, quite proud of that fact.
"There goes his ego," said Tom, giving The Doctor a wink, as the EMH rolled his eyes.
It took only three days to hear back from Earth and from Janeway and Seven. The moment they had gathered the information and had disseminated it, the Doctor was sent to Earth, more specifically, to Will Riker's home in Spain.
Kathryn Janeway pined for the days when Seven of Nine was an emotionless, almost-drone, sometimes. Now was such a time.
She had never seen Seven so unsettled, which was saying quite a bit, seeing what they had gone through recently. They hadn't left the safe moon yet, and weren't about to, not until some concrete plans had been made. The news out of Covis III had, like everywhere else, increased the pressure on everyone involved.
"I just don't like sitting here, Kathryn, doing absolutely nothing, while God knows what is going on elsewhere. We have to do something."
Janeway couldn't help but chuckle, which caused Seven to become more upset.
"What's so funny about this, Kathryn? We just moved a step closer to conflict."
Janeway stifled her life. "I'm sorry, Seven, but I was thinking I miss the days when you were never perturbed by anything. I would think you had a plan up your sleeve."
That caught Seven short. "Well, unfortunately, I've lost some of my...touch...at being a detached Borg, if you will. But I feel useless right now."
"As do I," Janeway countered soothingly, "but we can't go off half-cocked and just fly off somewhere. A little more patience is required."
"I hope Qochur and Fenris get the subspace message I sent out, and quickly. The Rangers, and the entire planet of Fenris, could be in danger, all thanks to me." Seven had been nervously pacing the main living room of their quarters, now sitting down with a sigh on a nearby chair, a scowl on her face.
"I do believe right now Fenris can take care of itself. At least in the short-term. They'll have to be brought in to anything being planned, because they-and you-have the best chance at finding out if and where Necheyav and whoever else is in on this, are working on XB's. Finding that information out maybe the key to defeating them."
Seven's eyes flared. "We are hated, Kathryn. XB's like me are hated by everyone in the Quadrants. We are orphans, and are easy targets for this hatred. If this were The Federation you had left when entering The Badlands all those years ago, and XB's were being butchered, would anyone even blink an eye?"
Janeway sat down herself, with silent contemplation. Seven had a point. When breaking her teeth in Command years ago, The Borg were the ultimate enemy. Wolf 359 was still in the not-to-distant past, and it had scarred everyone. How would The Federation of old dealt with this?
"I don't know Seven," Janeway replied meekly, knowing she had no other defense. "I can't answer that. I would hope we would have been true to our charter, which is to seek out new life. But...I am not certain now."
They were silent for a good five minutes, letting the gravity of Seven's words, and the situation they were in, sink in.
"Well," Kathryn finally said, standing up, and putting her hands on her hips, "you're right that we have to do something, at least to prepare. Let's look at some possible locations to meet with Tuvok, and at least one representative from Earth, and from Fenris. I'm sure everyone else is doing that, but we're just as smart as they are." The lopsided smirk on her face made Seven feel a little better, a smile lighting up her face.
"That sounds like my Captain from Voyager." Her eyes showed the first sign of life in weeks, and they twinkled at Janeway. "I will comply."
Captain T'revva had settled in nicely to her new position. She knew a lot was going on, but she was still the New Kid on The Block, and Necheyav's team was still cautious around her. She had received the brief on the entire Covis III operation, and was planning to pass the information on to Admiral Jellico as soon as it was safe to do so. She had no doubt her "former" Boss was aware, at least in part, about the operation.
Rumors were flying around the Operations Center she was assigned to, that Necheyav was going to be holding, for a lack of a better term, a conference of war, and very soon, with some other unknown big-shots. T'revva wanted to lay her hands on that information: the who, what, when, and where of such a meeting. She knew the chances were slim, yet she had thrown herself into her work at Necheyav's behest with such gusto and enthusiasm-at least for a Vulcan-that she was beginning to win people over in her section. That would come in handy.
Each day, when work ended, every worker went through the same exit, which had a multitude of scanners present, in case, as Necheyav had mentioned, she accidentally had information on her that wasn't to leave the office. T'revva, being an efficient Vulcan, didn't worry about accidentally holding on to a document, or a PADD, or anything else. With her Eidetic memory, she didn't need it.
Yet she did feel she could defeat the electronic eyes if something did cross her desk, or her computer, that looked promising.
Had Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, commanding the Starship Voyager, had known how close she was at the moment to where Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine currently were, she would not be stewing in her Ready Room, frustrated after months on the hunt for the former drone, and the former Captain of the vessel she now mastered.
Yet she had no idea. At the moment, Voyager was about to pass Farius Prime, in the Orion Sector, and shortly would cross the border into the Andorian Sector. If she had made a turn to her Port of about 140 degrees, she would be heading directly where the two women were, and only about a day in flying at warp six.
But in the months that she and her scattered fleet of Intrepid Class ships had been searching for the reclusive Seven of Nine, they had not received one iota of where they might be. It wasn't for lack of effort. Her fleet had put in a lot of hours, a lot of discussion with people all over the Alpha Quadrant, and they had turned up zippo.
The news from Covis III, and learning the information that Janeway was probably with Seven, and that perhaps there might be a real opposition to The Federation had frustrated Shelby even more. She wanted to make a difference in The Federation, according to her lights. The news that others were getting some results ruffled her feathers.
Immediately after confirming the Covis III news, Shelby had sent a subspace message to Admiral Necheyav, requesting permission for her fleet to head home, and to conference with the Admiral and Sloan on revising their plans. Perhaps she could garner some information about these ships that had been hijacked from Covis III, and find a way to smoke out Janeway and Seven of Nine.
The next day, Necheyav had replied to the affirmative to her request, and headed back toward the Terran System, which was a four-day ride from her current position.
Sloan had advised Necheyav that he would be out of reach for a week or two. The Admiral personally didn't like the man, and was glad to have him out of her hair, although she knew if something suddenly occurred, he'd be back before she could say his name.
When pressed where he was going, Sloan simply ignored the question, telling Necheyav that it was personal business, and nothing more. Necheyav had accepted that explanation, but was sure the man was bullshitting her.
And Necheyav was correct: he was bullshitting her.
Sloan was visiting a Federation installation that very few people knew existed, and even fewer knew where it was located.I
Ganymede was larger than three planets in the Terran Solar System, and only slightly smaller than Mars, but it wasn't considered a planet, because it didn't orbit the Sun. It orbited Jupiter, and that made it a moon, not a planet.
For Sloan, whatever it's scientific designation, it was very important. Necheyav knew this installation existed, but she didn't know where it existed. Only Sloan, and the "technicians" he had working here, knew the "where" of this facility.
It was similar to that which Seven of Nine had destroyed in Cardassian space-a facility to study, dissect, and learn from former drones of The Borg Collective. It was set up after Seven of Nine had killed other technicians at the Seven Domes facility on Vergessen, where Bjayzl had taken Icheb to be butchered. The facility was shut down, and any R&D that had been done there was kept under wraps until the facility on Ganymede was completed.
Sloan's people had learned a lot from the XB's that they had cut up and thrown away like dead fish back into a lake, but none of these former drones knew what Seven of Nine did, or were capable of what Seven of Nine was capable of. She had been heir to the Throne of The Collective-picked by The Queen herself, to become, perhaps, the most powerful being in the Galaxy someday.
Seven simply knew things, and could do things, especially with her mind, that no other drone could. If Sloan ever was able to get his hands on Seven again, access her cortical node, and delve in-depth into her incredible mind, it could change the very nature of the Galaxy. And, what Sloan wanted, was knowledge that could turn The Federation into an organization that was more feared than The Borg, and which he would control for as long as he could.
That's why this facility existed.
Currently at the Ganymede facility, there were eighteen former drones. Six were Human, one Klingon, three Cardassians, one Bolian, four were Kazon from the Delta Quadrant, and three were of unknown species. Not that it mattered. The job here wasn't to rehabilitate them: it was to find any information, no matter how trivial, that might help turn The Federation into a military juggernaut the likes which had never been seen.
Yet these subjects, and others, while giving up some marginal information from their Borg hardware, weren't what was needed. Seven was needed. Yet the work went on: capturing XB's, bringing them here, literally tearing them apart-although unlike Bjayzl, Sloan at least had the subjects sedated-then disposed of.
Another aspect Necheyav had never learned about this operation, is that Sloan had recruited Bjayzl personally. He had never had any love for that woman, as she was highly arrogant-almost as arrogant as he was, which was probably the reason why he hated her-and was actually not unhappy that Seven of Nine had killed her. It had saved him the trouble of doing so.
Despite owing Seven of Nine that small gratitude, he still wanted her picked apart, then killed.
Captain T'revva left work that day unusually excited for a Vulcan. Someone like Spock or Tuvok would have thought she was literally jumping with joy, although to the everyday human being, she looked as any Vulcan that had ever lived.
Yet she knew, this day, at work, she had learned something important. She wasn't sure what it was, or what it might mean, but her instincts told her that something important had taken place.
Earlier in the day, Necheyav had stopped in, and called a meeting with her Chief-of-Staff, Captain Quinones, and others in the Ops Center. T'revva had been included.
"This meeting won't take long, people," Necheyav had begun. "I wanted to give you an update on Operation Lancet. I will pass out a PADD to each of you, and, as usual, the information cannot leave that PADD."
The Admiral went over the information. "We will be adding a diplomatic mission to Lancet within the next ten days, and what I need from all of you is to keep your ears and eyes open for any comm traffic that might indicate someone else knowing about it, outside of The Federation. The situation involved Fenris, and The Rangers that are based there. I cannot go into more detail than that. The rest of the information is on the PADD's."
"Admiral," one of the other Ops members spoke up, "will we get a fill-in later on the diplomatic mission, in case we need to do a follow up?"
"That hasn't been decided yet," Necheyav said evenly. "A lot of that will depend on what the diplomatic mission discovers. But at the very least, you will get a synopsis, or a broad outline, on the diplomacy that will take place."
A few other questions were asked, but nothing of great importance. As the meeting in the Chief-of-Staff's office was breaking up, just before T'revva closed the door behind her, she heard Quinones say something softly to the Admiral.
"Admiral, I don't know how happy Sloan is going to be with him finding out he's not going on the mission."
T'revva continued to close the door, as if she didn't hear anything, and only caught a, "On this one, Sloan will....," before she had closed the door.
She had never heard, nor seen the name Sloan in anything that had crossed her desk. She couldn't simply pull up that name at her work station, or on a PADD, as that would be tracked. What she could do is tuck the name away in her memory, and, at the next rendezvous with the intermediary between herself and Jellico, would include that name for analysis.
The four Admirals who were covertly working in opposition to Necheyav met again in San Francisco, under the cover of another in what always seemed to be an endless set of parties for Federation brass every weekend. They met, this time, at Admiral Patterson's home, far north of the city.
That was the response when hearing the name from the other three, when Jellico had mentioned it. It didn't ring a bell.
"That's what T'revva's information said. The name is Sloan. No first or last name, just Sloan."
"Could be anyone," Owen Paris stated for all of them. "I doubt it's a real name. It could even be a code name for all we know. Is there anything we can do with this information?"
Admiral Patterson sat back in his chair, and took a hefty sip of the bourbon that he had poured for all of them. "Has to be a code name. But who or what it stands for, is anyone's guess."
Will Riker hadn't heard the name, either, but he knew if anyone had...
"Gentleman, might I suggest we find a way to contact Admiral Picard?"
The other three looked at him long and hard.
"Yes, I know it won't be easy-we may have to go through Tuvok to find out where Jean-Luc is, but if there's anyone in the Galaxy that has even a clue about that name, it would be Picard."
Jellico shrugged. "It's as good as anything any of us have, Will. It certainly can't hurt. Meanwhile," he continued, sweeping his eyes across his three colleagues, "we have to discreetly put out feelers on this name. It will have to be subtle, not overt. Necheyav will be on us in a nanosecond if it gets back to her."
Owen Paris heard his colleagues, but didn't hear them, either. He was thinking a few steps ahead. He didn't like where his mind was going, but it went there anyway.
"Gentlemen, I think it might be time to start consolidating our resources," he said, still in thought, not raising his eyes.
"What do you mean, Owen?"
"We need to find a way to gather not only our resources here on Earth, but to quietly begin trying to gather any ships and ships' captains that might be loyal to us, and not to Necheyav. We may have to move in an awful hurry onto those ships, if Alynna gets even a sniff of this."
That silenced the room.
"Jesus, Owen," Jellico muttered, "that's a bit down the line, isn't it?"
"Think it through, Ed," Paris countered. "If we start saying the name Sloan beyond these walls-and we're gonna have to if we're ever going to find out what Section 31 is up to-because I would bet Sloan has to do with Section 31, we're gonna need to high-tail it off the planet. If we have loyalist ships nearby for us to head to, all the better."
"That brings up a whole set of other issues: how to get loyalist ships together; finding out how many loyalist ships we might have at our disposal; coming up with encryption codes, and means to communicate that can't be easily deciphered by Starfleet Headquarters; even PR to justify any actions we take."
Jellico was right, and they knew it. Riker made the next suggestion.
"May I suggest that one person who might be indispensable in helping us put all this together, is the very person Necheyav is looking for?"
Again, silence reigned for a few, long moment.
"You mean...bring Seven of Nine into this?" Patterson shook his head. "Bring her into the belly of the beast? Christ, Will, I highly doubt she'd go for that."
"We wouldn't necessarily have to bring her here, Mike," Riker countered. "We could meet her off-world if we have to. But she could put together encryption and codes that would take Necheyav and her cronies months to break. She may be the one with the target on her back, but she's also the ace up our collective sleeves."
"She and Janeway together make a formidable team, gentlemen." Owen was beginning to warm up to the idea. "Those two alone could run circles around the Intrepid fleet in the ship they currently have, which is one of those from Covis III. Imagine having her, and more of her crew in on this? I'd take those chances."
Jellico still wasn't sure. He could be a gambler-Riker knew that better than anyone, and once he decided to back something, he held nothing back. But like everyone else, he liked the odds in his favor.
"OK," he finally announced, "we need to contact Tuvok, and arrange a meeting with Seven and Kathryn somewhere very discreet. I suggest one of us has to be the contact."
"I'll volunteer," Owen Paris said immediately. "More than likely, Janeway is going to want to have my son and daughter-in-law in on this. Their skills could be crucial."
Jellico nodded. "Very well, Ed. You can put that part of it together. Meanwhile, we need to discreetly find out how many ships we can count on. We know that LaForge, Lavalle, Nicoletti, and Ayala will back us. But we'll need more than that. That's something I can handle."
"I'll see about raising Jean-Luc, wherever he is. I think he needs to ponder the name Sloan, and having his backing if this comes to blows will be crucial."
"Since everyone else has volunteered ahead of me," Patterson said with a smile, "I'll be the one who find out what, or who, Sloan is, and also to gather some allies planet-side, and perhaps on Mars and Utopia Planetia."
The four men adjourned, all of them mightily concerned about having to ratchet up their side of this dangerous game.
Seven of Nine had feared that the wrath she had delivered on Freecloud, in Cardassia, and in Ferengi space would be visited back on her. She knew there was a fleet out looking for her. Now, with the information from Tuvok, updating she and Janeway on events on Covis III, and the request for a meeting with some of their allies, she felt the time of that wrath closing in on her.
Kathryn, for her part, didn't like it any better, but saw the logic in having a conference.
"We knew this time would come, Seven," she said defensively, knowing Seven had no inclination at the moment to show herself. It wasn't a matter of courage, Kathryn knew that. But she knew that the younger woman had known a price would have to be paid for her actions, one way or another. "We should be fine if we're safe and quiet about this."
"Easy enough to say," Seven replied acidly, not mad at Janeway, but angry at the mess she had put herself in. "The Federation is obviously trying to flush not just me out, but anyone else involved. They have to know it isn't just me and you."
"I agree. They're not stupid, not for a second. Does this name Sloan mean anything to you?"
Seven shook her head. "It's just a human name. It is nothing I recall with my time with the Borg, which isn't surprising, since that was now over twenty years ago."
""I figured as much," Kathryn said ruefully.
"So you don't see any other choice except to arrange a rendezvous?"
Kathryn shook her head. "If you have anything better, Seven, I'm all ears. But if The Federation is consolidating its forces, so do we, eventually. The time for simply staying inert is passing."
"Unfortunately, I agree with you, Kathryn," Seven said with a slight smile. "What I wouldn't do for a Borg cube under our control right now."
Kathryn laughed hard at that one. It was the first time in years Seven had heard that full, rich, throaty laugh, and despite the tension still between them, it warmed her. "If we had one, you'd be the Queen. The other one need not apply."
Seven chuckled back, the little exchange breaking the tension. "OK, I guess we send back our RSVP, then?"
Again Janeway gave a little laugh. "All we need to find out now is the where and when. Let's send our message."
Admirals William T. Riker (retired), and Admiral Edward Jellico felt as if they had hit a brick wall in their quest to slow down Admiral Alynna Necheyav, and whoever else was behind the continuing ruination of The Federation. The slow, steady drumbeat toward dictatorship, and a Federation that was tasked with conquest, not cooperation, was picking up speed. It needed to be stopped.
"Covis III," Jellico pondered, "for as unimportant as it was in the scheme of things, may very well be the tipping point, Will. It's really the first time Necheyav has taken overt action to shore up her support. And yet I can't help but think she's not the one driving this."
"This Sloan character?" Will shook his head. "Until we know that there is such a person, Necheyav is the one we can target, to be honest. I know Alynna has become much more paranoid over the years, especially after Wolf 359, and part of me can't blame her for that, but I always had trouble believing she could be this ruthless, this driven. But again, we just don't know."
"Do you know how many Captains and ships we've been able to line up if we need to move?"
"Right now, we have eight that I know of. Owen and Mike are keeping closer tabs on that, and I fully expect we'll get more ships to be on stand-by for us if they're needed. Let's hope they never are, but I think we have a nice base to work from."
Jellico took a sip of his coffee, looking straight ahead for a moment. "Let me ask you something, Will?"
"Do you believe I'm taking too big a risk with T'revva? She's as capable as any officer I know, and she's very astute at being discreet, but if she's caught, it's a death sentence for her."
Riker gave a small smile. "This whole thing is a death sentence for all of us, if we don't stop Necheyav from getting her hands on Seven of Nine, and, now, by extension, Kathryn Janeway. You've read the reports on Seven, Ed. She was an heir to the throne of The Collective. She was being groomed to be The Borg. I don't think she even realizes what she knows on a conscious level. Yes, she's almost fully human now, but even she has stated that there is so much buried inside her cortical node, that it frightens even her." He took a sip of his own coffee, and raised the mug in a form of a salute. "Desperate measures, and all that, Ed."
Jellico gave a small smile back. He finished the thought. "Desperate time, Will. So, we wait to hear back from the others, then hold this, for lack of a better term, Council of War."
"That's the plan, Ed," Will said evenly. "We're officially in the hurry up and wait mode. Patience, my friend."
"Admiral Necheyav, Admiral Shelby has arrived."
"Thank you, Captain Quinones, please send her in.
Within moments Elizabeth Shelby entered the inner sanctum of Necheyav's office, a place very few ever saw. "Reporting as ordered, Admiral Necheyav."
Necheyav gave her a tight smile, apparently the only smile she was capable of. "Welcome home, Elizabeth, it's good to see you. I've read your post-mission reports-unfortunately, things didn't turn out the way we wanted."
"Yes, ma'am," Shelby replied. She took a sip of the ice water that her Boss had already taken care of. "On our way back to Earth, I went over the reports on those ships from Covis III. They sound pretty damn impressive. If Seven and Janeway have one, there's no wonder we didn't find them."
"Yes," Necheyav said with some annoyance, "those ships are impressive. Our engineers are having trouble cracking the encryption that are keeping their secrets from us."
Necheyav looked even more sour. "Borg. From what we could glean from our operations on Covis III, a lot, and I mean a helluva lot of former 'Fleeters were working there, most left because they don't like the direction we're moving in. As noted in the report, we're convinced one person heavily involved in the construction was B'Elanna Torres, who was Chief Engineer on Voyager when they were in the DQ, and who is Owen Paris' daughter-in-law." Just the thought of the elder Paris put Necheyav in an even worse mood.
"That would explain it. Perhaps if we can't get Seven of Nine, Torres might be a good target to go after, Admiral?"
Necheyav nodded. "Yes, that is something I don't want to do except as a last resort. It seems Owen is not in the loop on any of this. My confidants say he's not even aware where his son and daughter-in-law currently are. It's likely they have one of those ships as well. Keep that as a fall-back option."
"The consensus among the intel weenies is that Seven and Janeway might be on Fenris, hiding under the protection of the Fenris government and The Rangers. Since no one has seen Seven since her foray against the Ferengi's, there's no way to know, but it does have a lot of logic to back it up."
"Even though Seven hasn't been a drone for over twenty years, Admiral, there's always going to be a residue of how she acted as a Borg, and logic, at least Borg logic, will tend to kick in. I'd say odds are she on Fenris, or near Fenris."
"What I'm planning, Elizabeth," Necheyav said, pulling out a binder, sliding it over to the younger woman," "is to send part of your fleet of Intrepid's to Fenris."
"Going to try and talk them into surrendering Janeway and Seven?"
"If they have them yes." Necheyav snickered again. "Even if they do have the two ladies, I don't expect Fenris to volunteer that information. We'll do this by the book: go there to hold 'diplomatic discussions', about the 'overall situation in the Quadrant, and to update the status of relations between The Federation and the Fenris Republic'."
"Does it matter if Seven is actually on Fenris, may I ask?"
Necheyav nodded approvingly. "An astute question, Admiral Shelby. The answer is, not really. If she's there, I suspect that will make itself known. If she isn't, then perhaps the threat of war against Fenris for harboring a known inter-galactic murderer would either have them give the information where Seven is, or would have Seven and Janeway come charging toward Fenris, to stand with Seven's friends."
"That is possible. After all, as I understand it, the goal is to flush out Seven and take her into custody, if at all possible. That parameter still stands?"
"It does," Necheyav confirmed. "Peacefully, if at all possible, but for a myriad of reasons, Seven is too dangerous-even more so if she's with Janeway-to be allowed free reign of the Quadrant."
"Agreed." Shelby took another sip of water. "I was mulling over the possibility of moving on Fenris when we were heading home." She pulled out her own folder, and handed it to the C-in-C. "I know you have been looking at that scenario, so I apologize if I'm too presumptuous, Admiral."
"Not at all, Shelby," Necheyav responded, her eyes on the folder as she opened it.
"I'll give you a quick summary, Admiral Necheyav: it calls for seven Intrepid's, backed by either some Galaxies, or some Sovereign's, and up to four more troop transports. Ground forces total, if needed would be about twenty thousand."
Necheyav let out an uncharacteristic low whistle. "You have been thinking about this," she said with a chuckle. "Very well, Elizabeth, even just glancing at this, I find it intriguing. I'll have my Chief-of-Staff and I go over it later today. Fair enough?" Necheyav rose to conclude the meeting.
"Yes, Admiral," Shelby said, rising herself. "I'm meeting with my Captains this afternoon, to run some other ideas around them. They're a good group."
"Once we set have a firm plan in place for Fenris, I will meet with all the Captains of all the ships before any departure. Dismissed, Admiral Shelby."
Three Weeks Later, The Yadalla Sector
By the time the meeting of the minds took place just under a month later, Covis III had been occupied by Federation forces on the ground, and were being circled by no less than four Starfleet Galaxy Class vessels, to ward off anyone with any ideas.
Admiral Edward Jellico had carefully chosen an old, abandoned Federation staging area between Tarsus VI and Mintaka III, that had been used to study the pre-warp civilization on the latter some years ago by Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise-D. The concerned parties all agreed it was an excellent location to hold a clandestine meeting.
Jellico had called the meeting, and would chair it. The information about the occupation of Covis III wasn't the only bombshell he would drop.
Present were Jellico, Janeway, Seven, Tom, B'Elanna, Tuvok, Qochur, and The Doctor. Jellico had heard rumors about someone else showing up, but it hadn't been confirmed. They would be on the outpost for four days, and surprises could happen.
Out of deference, Admiral Jellico approached Kathryn Janeway first. "Admiral Janeway," he said with a smile that, when he wanted to use it, was quite charming. "It is my honor to finally meet you."
"Admiral Jellico," Kathryn said kindly, "Will told me that you would keep me on my toes. It's a pleasure to meet you as well."
Jellico actually laughed at the ribbing. He hand Will had come to terms years ago. "Yes, well, that sounds like Will Riker. He sends you his regards."
Next he turned to Seven of Nine. "Hello, Seven, Admiral Edward Jellico, at your service." He shook her hand with a clear firmness, but, Seven also noted, with a a genuine smile on his face.
"Admiral, I thank you for all the work you have done on my behalf." She had firmly grasped his hand as well. "I know it is not entirely for my benefit, but for that of a peaceful Federation, but you have my gratitude."
"We still have a long way to go, Seven," Jellico reminded her, "but I'm hoping that we can avoid any more bloodshed."
After the formalities were out of the way, they retired to what had been the operations center that The Federation had once had on the small planet, that was within sight of Mintaka III. They immediately began the serious business ahead of them.
"I know that Commander Tuvok is aware of this," Jellico began, using formal titles when he could, "but I doubt the rest of you are aware of this: The Federation has occupied Covis III with ground troops and four or five ships patrolling around it."
That elicited a small gasp from Tom and B'Elanna. It had been their home for years. Chances are, they might never go back. Jellico glanced over at the couple.
"I understand you were friends with a Lars Rolfson, who worked with you?"
"Yes, sir," Tom said, knowing what was probably coming next. "A damn fine engineer, and a fantastic pilot. You don't find many who can do both as well as he can."
"Apparently a special forces team got a hold of him, and he, along with about fifteen others, were blown up along with the ship production facility there. Shortly after that, the ground troops, along with five Galaxy-Class ships showed up."
"Khaless," B'Elanna breathed. "I wonder if they found out that he worked with us, Tom?"
Jellico answered. "Unknown, but it's a good bet they did. Owen's heard nothing, and been asked nothing, at least yet. Secondly, Necheyav has recalled the Intrepid fleet, and has been conferring with Shelby."
Janeway caught the import of that immediately. "Your friend Lars met us, remember, B'Elanna?" She looked at her Klingon friend. "I'd say they're aware not only of you two, but that Seven and I were there as well."
Jellico gave her a long look. "We have considered that, but again, we're not sure. I'm not gonna bet against you on that one, Admiral."
"Admiral, if I may," Qochur spoke up, "is there any indication against a move on Fenris and the Rangers?"
"No, there has not, Qochur," Jellico assured him, "but it's possible that the Intrepid's could be re-deployed with that in mind." He addressed the entire gathering. "Now, as I made clear, I do have a source inside Necheyav's Ops center, but they don't see everything, and it's not easy for them to get the information to me as quick as we'd like. I'm sure some of the information will change when I get back to Earth."
He took a sip of the water that he had poured for everyone. "A few other things. We have more than a few Starship Captain's that are aware of this situation, and are sympathetic to stopping Necheyav, and Section 31, and keeping their claws off of Seven. Two of them, currently, are in orbit around Covis III, and we're hoping to get intel from them."
He wasn't about to give any names, but he knew Captain Sam Lavalle was on hand at Covis III, commanding the U.S.S Anwar Sadat, and Geordi LaForge, on the Georgy Zhukov. Will Riker was keeping tabs on both his proteges if they found out any information.
Kathryn took it all in, then spoke for the others. "I have to admit, Admiral Jellico, that's a lot of information to digest. I'm also betting that no one else has heard of the name of this Sloan, that your operative picked up."
Janeway could tell that tidbit frustrated her fellow Admiral. "Not a peep, Kathryn. I still have a hunch it's a missing piece, but so far, nothing has turned up."
They concluded their preliminary discussions for the day, then sat down to an excellent, albeit replicated meal, then retired to the numerous crew quarters that were available. Since the Doctor didn't need sleep, he returned to the Icheb I in case any information filtered in overnight. None was expected, but The Doctor had promised to keep his holographic eyes and ears open.
Former Admiral Jean-Luc Picard rolled the name over his tongue, with distaste. Yes, he knew that name. He knew the name well. But the name was practically a myth to him, and only a few others within the ranks, or formerly in the ranks of The Federation.
He had heard stories, really. Stories about a shadowy figure within Starfleet, and within The Federation, that wielded enormous power and influence. Yet had no name, or no biography to go along with the name. It was just a name whispered, ominously, among a very few people in the Galaxy.
Will Riker's communication had reached him shortly after the events on Coppelius had concluded. He was not going to reveal to anyone, outside those who already knew, what he had become on that maddening world of The Synths. But he also knew he was still Jean-Luc Picard, with all his memories, and right now, the situation within The Federation demanded his attention.
He thought again about the irony of the fact that The Federation, whom he currently was at great odds with, had rescued the planet, yet the La Sirena and her crew, with Raffi Musker, Agnes Jurati, Elnor, and Captain Cris Rios, and Soji Asha, had all slipped away before the Starfleet vessels knew that he was there.
He looked away from what was behind him for the moment, concentrating on reading Will's message for the umpteenth time, trying to make overall sense of it. He had just received the follow-up about Covis III, and his alarm grew, as did the information that Necheyav had recalled the fleet searching for Seven of Nine.
It still made Jean-Luc smile to know that Will Riker was working with Ed Jellico, after the two had almost come to physical blows so many years ago on the Enterprise. He felt both men had badly over-reacted at the time, the stress of a very dire situation coloring both of their moods at the time. Both had long since grown beyond that, and Picard knew they made a formidable duo for anyone to run up against.
Yet the more he cluttered his mind with different thoughts, the harder the name Sloan came racing back to the forefront. It's almost as if the man-and he was convinced that, if he existed-he was a man, probably from Earth-had no history, and no identity which to trace.
His bet was that this Sloan was somehow involved with Section 31, and might even be the one running the whole, foul operation. But myths were hard to prove. He was damned determined to find a way to prove this one. Or at least hope those trying to rein in the lesser angels of The Federation would catch a break and stumble on the information.
He rose from his solace, and moved over to the replicator. "Computer, tea, Earl Gray, hot." The beveridge was in front of him quickly. He took the cup and saucer back to his desk, setting it down.
"Picard to Rios."
"Go ahead, Admiral?"
"How much longer?"
"Latest estimate is we'll be there in five hours. You might want to get a little shut-eye before we land, sir."
"Acknowledged, Picard out."
He took the first sip of the fine liquid, realizing that Rios was right. After half a cup, he decided to call it a night. Despite the worries on his mind, he was asleep in a matter of minutes.
The Next Day, Former Federation Outpost Near Mintaka III
Around 0900, the group met again, this time to discuss what they might do going forward. Everyone knew that, from this time forward, the risks would keep climbing exponentially, as they would have to lay down some of their own cards on the proverbial table.
"It seems to me," Jellico began the day's discussions, "that Covis III can only be a first step. With Shelby back in San Francisco, I have to believe Necheyav is looking to up the ante, and significantly."
"The Admiral has a point," B'Elanna concurred. "Problem is, there's a few different points that they could take a crack at-one being right there on Earth, to try and discover who the opposition is in their own backyard."
"B'Elanna is right," Seven said, looking over at her friend. "But I don't think Necheyav is going to do anything piecemeal. The pressure to find Kathryn and I, and to flush out their opposition, is going to be multi-faceted, I believe."
The Doctor looked at his former protege. "Fenris."
Everyone looked at the EMH. It hadn't been a question, but a statement. The Doctor followed up.
"I know that isn't a newsflash to any of us, but Fenris is a logical place for The Federation to put pressure to bring Seven into the open. She is a Fenris Ranger. She has been the main target that Necheyav and Shelby have been gunning for."
"You make an excellent point, Doctor," Jellico nodded with approval. "That thought has been running through our collective heads back on Earth."
"And it's very valid," Janeway spoke up for the first time. "Knowing Seven as I do, I have no doubt she would want to head for Fenris, especially in a ship like the Phantom, and defend her friends. Seven may prioritize things wrong sometimes, as we saw on Freecloud." She looked at the woman she still loved deep in her heart. The look was not unkind. "But her heart is always in the right place. And if that's what we had to do, I'd be right next to her."
Seven couldn't show how much Janeway's words had meant to her at that moment. No, they couldn't be called friends at the moment, but they had never been enemies, and, like the entire crew on Voyager that had made it back from the Delta Quadrant, she knew that any differences within the crew would be put aside for the greater good. That's what Kathryn was saying to her. And yet she understood there was a whole lot more that Janeway had left unsaid.
"Should we allow Seven to even get near Fenris?" Qochur was, like most full-blooded Klingons, not overtly sentimental, but he cared about, and respected Seven a great deal. The feeling was mutual. "For myself, I think that's exactly what The Federation would want-Seven coming in like the white knight that is so famous in Earth mythology."
"Yes, that's what they would want," B'Elanna said, her mind suddenly racing in another direction. "In fact, I think they believe that's what both Kathryn and Seven would do."
Jellico's eyes lost focus for a moment. "Go on, Lieutenant."
"What if we send Seven toward the very last place they think she might head to?"
There was a pause for a moment, as everyone tried to grasp those words.
Tom got it first. "What, you mean back to Earth?"
"Exactly," B'Elanna said with a smirk, first looking at Tom, then at at the taller blonde woman.
"B'Elanna," The Doctor interjected, "you're going to have the flesh that one out a little."
"What set Seven off in the first place?" B'Elanna glared directly at all of them. "It was seeing that bitch Bjayzl, who had Icheb all but murdered all those years ago. That started Seven's chain reaction-Freecloud, then the Cardassians, then the Ferengi."
"I'm still not sure I get where you're headed, B'El," Tom said.
"Seven did this because of how XB's are treated. She joined the Rangers before Icheb was butchered, but she became pretty hard-core after that, and it finally blew up when she saw Bjayzl, right?"
Seven's eyeballs clicked. "You want me to locate The Federation's XB prison?"
Collectively, everyone drew in a breath, finally getting B'Elanna's little puzzle.
"But we don't know if the XB's are on Earth," Qochur objected.
"No we do not," Tuvok interjected. "But it would be logical, Mr. Qochur, that if The Federation has an XB prison-and Seven's unwise actions on those three instances leads us to believe, through the actions The Federation, hypothetically confirms-that such a prison is within close proximity to Earth, certainly within the Terran System."
"The Terran System is still an awfully big place, Tuvok," Janeway noted. "It could be anywhere. That's still a lot of space to cover."
"Not if I can activate a Borg subspace message via my cortical node."
That got everyone's attention.
B'Elanna's eyes lit up. "If there are any other active cortical nodes within, say a twenty to thirty light year radius...you could almost use it like a homing beacon, right?"
"And with a ship like the Phantom," Kathryn thought it through, "you could possibly find an XB prison that way."
Jellico let his subordinates-and for this discussion, and in reality, they really were subordinate to him-keep working it out. He didn't want to interrupt them.
"Wouldn't that tip off their captors, when they become active?" Tom was beginning to see merit in the idea as well.
Qochur emphatically shook his head. "Not necessarily. If Seven sent a specific message to simply reflect the message back to her, then their captors would be none the wiser."
"A stealth attack." The Doctor gave a small smirk.
"Exactly," B'Elanna said excitedly. "Seven, you could really fuck up The Federation if this can be done."
Janeway couldn't help but give a small snicker at B'Elanna's language. "I may not have put it quite so...bluntly, B'Elanna, but I like your enthusiasm."
This time even Jellico gave a small snicker. Then he brought everyone back in to the discussion. "Seven," he said looking directly at her, "is this just theoretical, or is this something that you can actually do?"
"I might need a little help from The Doctor and B'Elanna in crafting the signal. Next to Qochur and I, they probably know more about Borg systems than anyone in the Alpha Quadrant. I believe the three of us can accomplish that before departing."
Jellico nodded. "We obviously cannot move with this-at least not yet," he amended. "We have to see what The Federation does with their assets. If they do move on Fenris, then this would be part of the plan."
Janeway looked over at Jellico. "If they move on Fenris, we would have to then form a battle fleet of our own-you said, Admiral, that there are more than a few Federation vessels that would rally to our banner?"
"At this time, I'd say about twenty." He held up his hand. "I know, that isn't a huge fleet, but if we position our assets the right way, it just might leave the door open for Seven to pull off her little maneuver." He gave the former Borg a wry grin.
"The more diversions the better," Seven said with her own smile. If The Federation were to move on Fenris, that's one diversion, so to speak. The assembling of an insurgent fleet would be another."
"How about an uprising on Covis III?"
Everyone looked at Tom.
"I can guarantee you that there isn't a soul on Covis III that is happy that The Federation is camped out on and above the planet. They are loyal to The Federation-at least to The Federation the way we know it should be, but I guarantee you they're pissed off. I bet I could find more than a few people willing to make some noise."
As they continued to discuss the possibilities, The Doctor had been internally monitoring communications via his own holomatrix.
"Admiral," The Doctor alerted Jellico, "There's an incoming message directed at the planet."
Jellico wasn't expecting visitors. He adjourned everyone to the old Operations center, where there was still a working communications array.
Jellico depressed a button on the computer screen. "Vessel approaching this location, identify and repeat your message."
"Is this Admiral Jellico?" The voice was unfamiliar to all of them-save two people.
Seven couldn't keep it in. "Rios!" Seven had nearly shouted the word.
Jellico didn't get it. "Who?"
"Admiral," Janeway said with a broad smile, "may I?"
"Of course, Admiral Janeway."
"La Sirena, this is Kathryn Janeway."
A new voice-one they all knew-was heard.
"Ah, Kathryn, how nice to hear your voice again. I trust you've kept Seven out of trouble since our last meeting?"
"Jesus Christ," Jellico said out loud.
"Not quite, Ed," the voice said with a chuckle. "Jean-Luc Picard will do."
"Son-of-a-bitch," Tom added in shock.
"Young Mr. Paris, is it? I think that's a little closer to the truth."
Everyone in the room, without exception, laughed at that exchange.
"Jean-Luc', Jellico said, a smile on his face. "I assume you're close by?"
"Yes, we are. In fact, Rios and Raffi will have this ship down in about eight minutes. Give us your exact coordinates, and we'll see you shortly. Picard out."
A short time later, Picard and his crew came out of the La Sirena, Seven being the first to arrive, and in an uncharacteristic display of open emotion, she ran up to Picard and flung her arms around him, some tears in her eyes.
After a silent hug for a few moments, Seven broke it. "Jean-Luc, I am so sorry for the mess I've caused, and how I broke my word to you. I'm truly ashamed." She couldn't look him in the eye at the moment.
"Seven of Nine...Annika, it is forgiven. No, I wasn't happy with what you did on Freecloud, or afterward, but we've all made mistakes in our life. It's part of human frailty. We have to move past it now."
"Thank you, Jean-Luc."
"Hey, Seven!" Raffi had been very intrigued by Seven when meeting her for the first time, but she and Jean-Luc had a long, deep discussion about Seven, and her relationship to Kathryn Janeway. Raffi knew it was just a fantasy of hers, but despite Seven's mis-steps, she wanted them to be friends.
"Raffi," Seven said, giving her a warm hug, "I see you kept JL out of trouble."
"Oh, hell no," the other woman said dismissively, "no one can keep that man out of trouble. But we muddled through anyway." The shared a light laugh.
Picard, keeping to formalities after that, approached Ed Jellico. "Admiral Jellico," he said with a broad smile, "it's been too long, my friend. You've been a busy man lately."
"Jean-Luc," Jellico said with his own grin, extending his hand to the older man. "Yeah, things are pretty hot in the old neighborhood. I know Will sent you an update on all this crap, but I didn't expect you to show up here."
"Well, we have some things to discuss, at least, at first, just you, me, and Admiral Janeway."
At that moment the former Voyager Captain came up, with a smile on her face. "I can't shake you, Jean-Luc." He replied with a hearty laugh. "You trying to get me in more trouble?"
He gave Kathryn a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek. "You've got enough of that, my dear Kathryn. I'm hoping to pitch in to help get through this situation."
"Now we're really in trouble," she responded with a laugh.
Currently, Seven was introducing Jean-Luc's crew to the others, so the three Admirals-one current, and two former-talked quietly.
"What does bring you hear, Jean-Luc?" Jellico was genuinely curious.
He looked at both of them and said one word.
The eyes of the other two widened, hearing that name.
Jellico informed the others that the three Admirals were going to talk privately for a short time, then would return to a round-table with the rest of the group. Picard had said nothing else, except the name Sloan, but it was worth pulling him aside for an interview.
They wasted no time.
"What do you know of Sloan, Jean-Luc?"
Picard looked at Jellico. It hadn't just been Will who Jellico had rubbed the wrong way years ago-Picard had been pissed at how the man had treated his crew and his Number One. It took a meeting between them, a few years after the events that had put Jellico in command of the Enterprise to clear the air between them. Jellico had been put as much under the gun as Picard and Riker. He also now knew Necheyav, at the time, was not supporting Captain Jellico as firmly as she should have, which put extra pressure on the man.
A few yeas after that, Ed and Will had come to terms. There was a healthy respect between the three of them now.
"It's a name that not many people know about, Ed," he said, sipping a hot Earl Gray. "And, like anyone who has heard the name, it's shrouded in mystery. I'm convinced it is a man. A human male. Simply from small clues I've heard over the years, it's the only thing that makes sense-and the name is definitely tied to Section 31."
"A code name?" Janeway was fascinated by this mystery.
"Possibly," Picard said offhandedly. "An alias. No one knows. But the few people who have even heard the name have never been able to pin anything down about this...myth?"
He took another sip. "Any person, from any race, has a history, Kathryn. Somewhere. It rarely can be hidden forever. A person can change names, identities, allegiances, but they can't truly change the fundamentals of who they are."
Had they know, at that moment, how true that was for him-for what he was now, it would have surprised them. The own secret he hid-was it really that much different than Sloan's? Was he still Jean-Luc Picard, or merely a "myth," as he had just told Jellico and Janeway?
"If this 'myth' is real, Jean-Luc," Jellico stated flatly, "I have to believe there is something that would trace back to any man. It's only logical."
"Talk to Tuvok about logic," Janeway pointed out with a smile. "He'd tell you none of this is logical. He's heard of the name too, Jean-Luc. And he knows no more than you do-probably less than you do-about what the name means."
"I do agree with Ed, Kathryn," he said with a nod toward Jellico. "Something, somewhere, has to know. It's inconceivable to me that he's simply some kind of figment of imagination-the name has surfaced far too often in the past for that."
"It doesn't change the fact that it's go most likely take a slip-up from the other side to ever find out the who and what on this person."
"Sometimes, Kathryn," Picard said with a thin smile, "we have to generate our own luck?"
Before the meeting, Picard pulled Seven to one side. "Annika," he said quietly, "if you have a few moments, I need to talk to you alone after the meeting continues. There have been...developments...that I would like to share with you, if I may?'
"What kind of developments?"
"That, my dear, will be self-explanatory. But I would like to share this with you."
"Very well," she said, curiosity lighting through her. "When and where?"
"At the La Sirena, in about one hour." He looked at her with a neutral expression. "You have to come alone, understood?"
"Of course, Jean-Luc. I will see you in an hour."
Seven's curiosity had always been perhaps her strongest trait, and the further she was removed from her time with the Borg, the more her curiosity had developed. She instinctively felt Picard was going to throw something big at her.
She couldn't have been prepared for just what he was going to tell her.
Picard filled in the entire group on what he knew about the name Sloan. It wasn't the only news he gave them.
"Since our mission on Soji's home world is complete, and after discussing it with my ship mates," he looked over respectfully at Raffi, Agnes, Elnor, and Rios, "we are going to add the La Sirena to the ships that will be available to you, Admiral Jellico. This is an excellent ship, with an excellent crew, and I offer our services."
Picard glanced at Seven, who gave him a knowing smile. Janeway had seen it. She would have to ask Seven about it later.
"We do need to make some repairs on our weapons systems," Raffi Musker added, speaking for the first time. "We also could use a fresh set of multi-phasic's." She gave a confident smile, "I know where to get a good supply."
"I would request, if I may," said Captain Rios, "that I be given a provisional Captain's command back in The Federation."
Picard turned to the pilot that he had come to trust, despite his many eccentricities and holographic personalities. "For what reason?"
Rios looked at him with some uncertainty. "Well...the La Sirena can handle a lot more crew members, and I have a feeling we're going to need them. Strictly for the chain of command...uh, sir?"
Even the ever-stoic Jellico gave a snicker to that. "I think, Captain Rios, explained that way, it's probably a good idea. Very well, you have a provisional, but as you can understand, I can't make it official-until after all this is sorted out."
"Uh, thank you, Admiral."
This time Raffi gave a little snicker, looking at her friend's discomfort.
"To bring things back around," Janeway said with a crooked half-grin. "What's our next move, Admiral Jellico?"
"Once we see what Necheyav is going to do with the Intrepid's, and I do think," he said, looking over at Seven, then Qochur, "that the only course they have is to threaten Fenris, that will allow us to start concentrating the ships that will be loyal to us."
"Then permission to head back to Earth with the Phantom, Sir," Tom said forcefully. "You may need the best damn pilot, and the best damn engineer in the Galaxy in one of those ships, Admiral."
"He's right, sir," Janeway backed up her former crew members. "You won't find a better pilot than Tom, nor a better engineer than B'Elanna anywhere, I can vouch for that."
"As can I," Tuvok said, raising an eyebrow at the married couple, who smirked back.
"I believe I can make that unanimous," Seven said, smiling at her two long-time friends.
"I guess I'm out-voted," Jellico said with humor. He looked over at Tuvok. "Mr. Tuvok, I'm sure we could use someone of your skill in this crazy setup somewhere?"
Tuvok nodded. "I believe, Admiral, that I can best be of use if I assist Admiral Janeway and Seven in their attempt aboard the Phantom in searching for an XB holding area within close proximity to Earth."
Kathryn was prepared to ask Tuvok for that assistance, but she was glad she didn't have to. She looked at Seven, who gave her a slight nod. She had been thinking the same thing. They shared a quick smile between them.
"Mr. Qochur," Jellico said, turning to the Klingon, "I believe your mission is clear: get to Fenris just as quickly as you can, and raise the alarm there. I fully expect Admiral Shelby's Intrepid's to head for that planet in the very near future."
"As do I, Admiral Jellico," the former drone said stoutly. "Since I have the longest way to do, I request permission to leave and head to Fenris immediately."
."Granted, Mr. Qochur. Qapla'."
The Klingon nodded. "To all of us, Admiral." The man quickly moved to get to his ship.
Jellico addressed the remainder of the gathering. "I suggest we have one final meeting this evening, then depart as we see fit after that. Seven, you, The Doctor and B'Elanna I imagine can design that homing signal by then."
"We can, Admiral," Seven said, looking confidently at the other two.
"Very well. We'll meet back here for dinner, then go over some final preparations, then we'll scatter. Dismissed."
When Seven sat down with Picard in his quarters on the La Sirena, he offered her a cup of Earl Gray, which Seven accepted. Picard took a seat across from Seven, took a deep breath, and was about ready to speak when Seven spoke first.
"You look no worse for wear, Jean-Luc," Seven said, eyeing him carefully. "I'm surprised you didn't come here looking to tear me apart limb-from-limb."
"The thought had occurred to me, Seven," he said with a smile, "but I highly doubt I could have accomplished such a task. Or, should I say, I doubt, before what happened to me, I could not have accomplished that task."
Seven gave him an odd look, and reverted to a Borg mannerism. "Explain?"
Jean-Luc went into detail about what had happened on Soji's home world, not leaving anything out, then finished off with the bombshell.
"Dr. Juarti had nothing to stop the Irumodic Syndrome had that point-neither did Alton Inigo Soong, so..."
"Soong?" Seven straightened up even more. "As in Dr. Noonian Soong?"
"Noonian's biological son, yes. He was the 'father' of both Soji and Asha. He's not just a brilliant scientist when it comes to synthetic beings, but as an incredible doctor in other disciplines in his own right. Be that as it may, Agnes was out of options, and..."
This time Seven stood, shocked into doing so. "What a minute, Picard," she said, voice full of incredulity. "You're...you're going to tell me...my God!" Seven turned away.
Picard smiled. "I knew you'd put the pieces together rather quickly when I got to the end. Yes, Seven, I am a synthetic representation of, well myself."
Seven turned back to him, eyes wide with shock. "So, you're like Data now? And Soji?"
Picard stood and moved toward her. "No, not like them, at least not exactly. Data could have lived forever, theoretically, if he hadn't given his life for me. Soji's the same way. Jurati has made it so that while I no longer have Irumodic Syndrome, my body will continue to age, and, I will eventually die, sooner than later. Without the Irumodic Syndrome, the rest of me was in fantastic shape, and I should live at least another fifteen or twenty years with this body. But, in every way, thanks to Agnes, with an assist from Alton, I am Jean-Luc Picard."
Seven was dumbfounded. She had to sit back down, lest she pass out. To be fair, such information might have done the same to anyone else as well. The former drone was having trouble wrapping her mind around this news.
"So you're...a facsimile of Jean-Luc Picard?"
Picard shrugged. "If that phrase makes you more comfortable with what I am, then yes, I guess I am. But I have all the memories, life experiences from my days as simply a human being. I have not been substantially altered ,and, unlike most other synths, I do not have an indefinite life span. As far as I am concerned, Seven, I feel like, think like, and act like who I've always been."
Seven shook her head, quickly rose again and went to the replicator. Even though it was early in the day, she needed this. "Computer, double whiskey, straight." The large highball glass appeared, and seven pounded down the liquid as if it was a two ounce shot, Picard raising his eyebrows.
She turned to look at Picard. "That's better." She returned to her seat as if nothing had happened, Jean-Luc barely holding off the urge to laugh.
"Why did you tell me this, Jean-Luc? I wouldn't have known any different."
He took another sip of his Earl Gray. "You and I, Seven, share a unique bond in this Galaxy. We were separated from The Collective, and were able to regain most of our humanity. There are millions of XB's roaming around, who will, even with our best efforts, never achieve that. We are, as The Borg like to say, 'unique', in who we are."
"Some of us more unique than others," Seven remarked, sotto voce.
That did make Jean-Luc chuckle. "Touche, my dear. I'm now a former Borg, and a former Human, so I guess you have me dead to rights there." He became serious again. "We do not know each other that well, but we were both there, at Wolf 359, and know the pain and destruction that The Borg wrought The Federation. It's something, that to this day, is part of what defines us, even though we have overcome it.
"I thought if anyone understood, you would. And I think you do, however I understand that I've unloaded a lot on you, my dear."
"No shit," Seven said, which proved Picard's point about the re-establishment of her humanity, again making him chuckle.
"But you're right, Picard, I think I do understand. But do you still feel your...humanity...within you? Are the emotions, the beliefs, the moral values, feel the same?"
"They feel no different, Annika," he said kindly. "When I woke, I must say my reaction was very similar to yours, but as I looked inside me, I realized that the essence of who I am hadn't changed on iota. I'm still the same man I was."
"Thank you for sharing this with me. I assume that, outside your crew, you do not want me discussing this with anyone else?"
"You do understand, don't you?" Picard gave her an expansive smile this time. "I would appreciate it. I'm not sure if I will even tell those closest to me-Will Riker, Deanna Troi, or even my former wife, Beverly Crusher. I want them to think of me as the same man. I was most certain you would see the uniqueness of who we both are, and that it won't affect your judgment of me."
Now Seven gave her own warm smile. "I think you're right, Jean-Luc. I'm honored that you felt you could trust me with this information. I failed you back on Freecloud, I know that," she said, looking down for a few moments, "but I won't fail you again, on this or anything else. I give you my word."
Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine had decided that, at least for the moment, they would stay on the abandoned Federation outpost near Mintaka III, where they had held a council of war with those who were opposing The Federation in trying to capture Seven, and who were trying to turn The Federation into a galactic monster.
After everyone had departed, Seven had begun some minor repairs on the Phantom, the ship built on Covis III by Tom and B'Elanna. No more ships would be made there for quite some time, if ever. The Federation had made sure of that.
"I tell you Seven," Janeway said, handing a glass of iced tea to the former drone, "knowing the history of what Picard went through, and the people he met on Mintaka III, I wish I could study them myself."
"I've read Jean-Luc's report from that mission. The Mintakans sound like the kind of people whom the galaxy could use more of: peaceful, highly intelligent, and compassionate."
"Mmm, you've got a point there. I'd like to see The Federation-a respectable Federation, that is-come back here to study them some more, in the centuries ahead. I suspect they'll be in the stars within five hundred years."
"If they're smart, they won't bother," Seven said, half in jest, half seriously.
Kathryn snickered. "I might have to agree with you there. Hopefully, by the time they became space-faring, the Quadrant will be a much more peaceful place."
"Amen," Seven said, taking a refreshing gulp of the tea. "Neither of us will be around when that occurs. We have our own fish to fry."
Janeway again smiled at the verbal nuances that Seven had come to. Inside, it also made Kathryn sad, as she had missed most of this human maturation that Seven had gone through once they had arrived back from the Delta Quadrant. Kathryn would have dearly loved to see Seven develop from what she was when they came home, to what she was now.
Maybe, had they stayed close, there wouldn't have been so much pain in their lives, especially the last decade or so.
"What is your take on everything that occurred at our little conference, Seven?"
Seven put the glass down for a moment. "Surprises everywhere, that's for sure. I like having Picard actively working with us. That man has seen so much in his lifetime...he's going to be a huge asset to us."
Seven thought to herself about her use of the word "man," realizing that this Picard was a synthetic being, something that she would not even advise Kathryn of in the present circumstances.
"An understatement. He still has to figure out how best to work with us, but I'd rather have him on our side than on theirs."
"Another Amen, Kathryn. Where you surprised at my suggestion to seek out a Federation XB prison?"
"Surprised that you want to hunt for it," Janeway said with some amusement. "No. But I must admit the plan you came up with, and that you and B'Elanna have figured out is brilliant. I hadn't even thought in that direction. Although it makes perfect sense."
"It still has a lot of risks, Kathryn," Seven noted. "Even with a stealthy ship like the Phantom, we're putting our necks on the chopping block. We have no idea where this facility-if it exists-is located."
"I understand that, Seven," Kathryn said seriously, "but I'm in this with you, you know that? We'll take the risk together."
The ice that had been in Seven's heart for almost twenty years melted a little more. Janeway could very easily have let Seven do this on her own, since she got herself into this mess, but that wasn't Janeway. Even after all these years, she would still do anything for a member of her family, even an estranged member.
Seven wished she had remembered that all these years.
"Thank you, Kathryn," Seven said with a small smile. "Plus we'll have Tuvok with us, most likely, and The Doctor."
"That seems to be the plan. The Doctor can adjust your cortical node on the fly if it's needed. From what you and B'Elanna told the group, this adjustment isn't something that is complicated."
"No, it's not, and despite what it may seem like, I don't suddenly become the head of a collective. It's more akin to, let's say, sonar in old Earth submarines, where a signal bounces off an object, and is reflected back to the source."
"Interesting way to put it, Seven. We'll have to deploy before everything else takes place. And no matter what takes place, we will follow through on this mission. If there is a Federation XB detention center, we find it, and free the XB's, and publicly expose it."
Seven's eyes went wide. "We never discussed that, Kathryn."
Kathryn nodded. "I know. However, Jellico and I agreed that, no matter what happens, we are committed to exposing a Federation XB torture chamber. It's simply not what The Federation should stand for."
Again, Seven had been caught off guard, her eyes misting at the thought that, if there were such a facility, that they would expose it. And maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't lead to a large loss of life, as had happened at Freecloud, and at the Cardassian and Ferengi locations.
Seven wanted to avoid that at almost all costs.
Five Days Later
Qochur arrived back on Fenris as fast as he could. No, nothing was imminent, insofar as a confrontation with The Federation, but the Klingon and former Borg drone knew time was of the essence as far as being prepared was concerned.
On his way, he had sent a coded message to a friend of his within Klingon space. The message didn't give away much, but he was covering all his bases. But his top priority was the protection of Fenris, and making sure it was prepared in case war came to the planet. He prayed to Khaless that a war could be diverted-perhaps a strange request from a Klingon warrior to the one Klingon that represented the warrior code, but Khaless would agree with him that there was a time and a place for war. Qochur didn't want this to be one of them.
He reported the morning after his arrival to Ranger Commander Ani Besho, and Fenris Prime Minister Cyan Sladek. He gave them a basic rundown of what was going on, leaving out more than they would have liked, simply as a means of plausible deniability. He did not mention the plan that Seven and Janeway would carry out, nor that a new, powerful ally in Jean-Luc Picard was onboard. Those items could wait.
"The consensus of our meeting was that The Federation will re-deploy the fleet of Intrepid Class ships to Fenris. Admiral Jellico does not believe it will be the ten ships that sailed months ago, looking for Seven, but perhaps five of them, backed by three or four Galaxy or Sovereign Class vessels, which would be held in reserve several days away, in case the possibility of a ground invasion would arise. The task force will be led by Admiral Elizabeth Shelby." He had already given both leaders a dossier on the three classes of ships, as well as one introducing them to Shelby.
That worried Prime Minister Sladek. "We have ships that can defend against their Intrepid Class, but we have nothing that could come close to a Galaxy, let along a Sovereign."
"It seems to me that the next move won't be a fight," Ani Besho offered, "but this will probably be a diplomatic mission. They want to know if we're shielding Seven and Janeway?"
Qochur gave a toothy smile. "I should have just invited you to the meeting, Commander. You think a lot like they do." They all nervously chuckled. "Yes, that is the consensus. I don't think they want a fight, to be quite honest. They simply want Seven. However, insofar as our allies are concerned, there is another issue that is even more of a concern to them."
Prime Minister Sladek handled that one. "They're more worried about what The Federation is becoming under Admiral Necheyav, and has been turning into over the last decade, correct?"
The Prime Minister was no dummy. Like any decent leader of any world, he kept up-to-date with the situation in the Quadrant.
"Exactly. That could make life for everyone in the Quadrant a living hell. A overtly militant Federation is frightening to contemplate."
The Prime Minister drummed his fingers on his desk for a moment. This was, as they would say on Earth, why they paid him the big bucks-to face a major crisis. A crisis was starting to take shape in front of him.
After a few minutes, he nodded, almost to himself. "Very well." He turned to his Chief-of-Staff. "It's time to bring General Grenthik in on this." General Larnek Grenthik was the Commander-in-Chief of the Fenris military. "I didn't want to bring in him unless I thought it was necessary. I believe it is so now."
His Chief-of-Staff departed on his errand. "I will brief the General on the situation, and, after that, I will want the four of us to conference."
Ani Besho had an excellent relationship with General Grenthik. They would have to coordinate their activities if any threat were offered to Fenris.
Upon his return to Earth, Admiral Edward Jellico called his own meeting with his principle compatriots that had been working with him. He did not tell Admirals Owen Paris, Will Riker and Mike Patterson that he was springing a surprise on the three men when he arrived. He had not left his clandestine meeting alone, which was the way he had arrived.
The meeting took place in the summer home of a friend of Riker's in Sochi, Russia, which was a popular summer getaway on the Black Sea. The other three were already in the well-appointed home when Jellico arrived.
Paris, Riker, and Patterson were sitting on the expansive patio in the back, overlooking the Black Sea, when the sliding glass doors to the rear area opened up.
Three jaws hit the floor, almost literally.
"Well, I'll be goddamned," Will Riker said, a smile coming to his face. He rose and went over to the man accompanying Jellico.
"Hello, Will," Jean-Luc Picard said warmly, embracing his old Number One. "It's so very good to see you again."
"Jean-Luc," Riker said, giving the older man a cherubic smile. "You're the last person I thought I'd see walking in with Ed."
Jean-Luc laughed. "There was a time, I believe," he said, glancing over at Jellico, "that putting the three of us in the same room might have been unwise, but not any longer."
Jellico smiled, shaking hands with the other three Admirals. "Nonsense, Jean-Luc. I think you would have made a fair referee in a boxing match between Will and I back then."
The banter made them all laugh, and lightened the mood, as the other two men welcomed Picard among their numbers.
"I'd have paid good money to see that match," Patterson said with a snort of laughter.
"Too late for that guys," Riker said with a pleasant wave of the hand.
Riker fetched two more glasses, and poured the newcomers some Merlot, which they were all drinking at the moment. "I guess you have a few things to tell us, Ed?" Again Riker gave his twinkling smile.
"Bringing this bum along is enough to keep us talking all day." Another round of laughter echoed in the patio. "But yes, gentlemen, we have a lot to discuss."
Jellico let Jean-Luc go over what he knew about Sloan. It simply intrigued the three men even more, knowing that there might be something to this name besides a blank page. Even with what Picard knew, they still had very little information.
"We got the first big break when Captain T'revva overheard Quinones mention his name. We're pretty sure now it is a real person. Whether it's an alias, or a code word, that doesn't matter now. We have something to grab on to, finally."
"I agree, Owen," Patterson offered. "But we still don't have much. No bio, no history, no photo. Nothing that tells us anything about this person."
"And we may not find that out," Jellico reminded them. "If Jean-Luc has heard the name on and off for a number of years, his existence, as I told Picard and Janeway, might be the best-held secret on Earth since The Manhattan Project. You would think something about the man had been discovered over the years."
"We need the other side to fuck up," Paris said, with unusual bluntness. "Pardon my language, but that's exactly what we need-for them to make a monumental blunder of some type."
"No apology necessary, Owen," Jellico said dismissively. "I've said that same thing to myself about a hundred times in the last week or so. I just don't see it happening."
"Maybe it's not my place any longer, gentlemen to say this," Picard piped up, "but I think it imperative that we concentrate of things more within our control, such as what we can do if there is a move on Fenris, and how to help Seven find this XB facility, if it exists."
Will Riker smiled. "I think you've earned the right to speak up whenever you want, Jean-Luc."
"Hear hear!," Patterson said, raising his glass, the others following suit.
"So you're in on this, Picard?" Patterson shook his head in wonder. "Two old farts like you and I still playing with the youngsters, eh?" That got a laugh from the group.
"It's all I know, Mike," Picard admitted. "And if I can help save The Federation from becoming the bully on the block, I'll do it until my last breath."
Not that I actually need to breathe any longer, he thought to himself wryly.
Back on Vulcan, Tuvok, B'Elanna, Tom, and The Doctor continued to prepare for what lay ahead. Tuvok had been up a good deal of the night, getting updates from his network all over the Quadrant. At breakfast, he briefed the others.
"I am sorry to report that any attempt at starting an uprising on Covis III is not advisable."
Tom and B'Elanna had hoped that wasn't the case, but it still didn't make them happy. "Any specific reason, Tuvok?"
"Yes, Mr. Paris," the Vulcan said, turning to the talented pilot. "Specifically, The Federation has added ground forces to the planet, and they are actively seeking you. There is an APB out on the entire planet for both of you. We cannot afford to have you captured there, as it could undermine our other ventures."
"I had to agree with you," B'Elanna told him wryly, "but we had hoped to make it work. And you're right," she added, "if Necheyav got a hold of us, the network we have would be compromised."
"Precisely," Tuvok said with a crisp nod of the head. "The best we can do for Covis III is to prevent Necheyav and whoever else is working with her, from turning The Federation into an entity where such occupations would be commonplace."
"So that basically leaves us in the cold?" The Doctor didn't like that at all.
"I do not believe so, Doctor. When reaching the conclusion that an uprising on Covis III, no matter how desirable it was in theory, could not occur, I considered another role for you, Tom and B'Elanna."
"Such as?" Tom trusted Tuvok's ability for tactical thinking.
"There is an old saying from Earth: 'Two is better than one.' I submit that both of these excellent Covis III ships be used in the attempt to find an XB encampment." He looked at the other three, then raised his eyebrows, as if to say, "what say you?"
B'Elanna smiled wickedly. "I like the way you think, Tuvok."
At almost the same time, Tom chimed in. "Where do we sign up?"
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, as another succinct Earth saying goes."
"Very good," Tuvok said with satisfaction. "We have work to do. I will inform Kathryn and Seven that we are amending that plan, and then I will advise Admiral Jellico."
Owen Paris and Mike Patterson had been working twelve-to-fourteen hour days, trying to sync the rotation for The Fleet that would put them in the best position, once Necheyav, as was expected, sent out a new task force toward Fenris. Moving a fleet around was an art form, and Patterson had been at it for years. Owen was back-stopping his work, but Paris felt he was more window dressing for this part of their work. It was tedious work as well, especially when they were held hostage on when Necheyav would move her fleet. They both knew it wouldn't be long, but the uncertain timing made it more difficult for them.
"We've already got Sam Lavalle's ship, the Sadat, the Capetown, under Captain Nog, and Mike Ayala and the Smolensk in the area for at least the next month, which would be more than enough time." Patterson was pretty much talking out loud to himself at the moment. "Nicoletti's ship arrives back in a week."
"She's taking over the Grant when she gets back, right?" Owen was double-checking his own PADD as well. He was referring to the U.S.S Ulysses S. Grant, an Intrepid Class that was just coming out of refit, and would be on station for "proving runs" in the Terran Sector for the foreseeable future.
"Affirm, Owen," Patterson said evenly. "She's gonna have at least a few days to shake the ship out. I also know that LaForge and the Zhukov will be back to rotate some crew in about ten days."
Paris nodded with some satisfaction. "That's a good beginning. If Necheyav gives us just a little more time, Mike, we can get or twenty-plus ships in the area within two weeks."
"It's about a six-day sail from Earth to Fenris at normal speed. Plus I don't think Shelby is going to go in balls-to-the-wall and begin a war the moment she's in range. Either way, we do have some time."
"I hope Captain T'revva gets us some info on approximately that fleet will sail. That would make our job easier."
"The only person that Alynna worries about making the job easier for is Alynna," Patterson said, tongue firmly planted in his cheek.
Paris snickered. "I'm surprised she doesn't make things difficult even for herself, Mike, she's such a tightwad bitch."
"Now Owen," Patterson said with more sarcasm, "how dare you talk about our esteemed C-in-C that way!"
Paris rolled his eyes and snickered again. "Then you wake up, Mike. Do you mind if I get us some lunch, maybe something delivered here?"
"How about from that Vietnamese place near the Federation Legal office?"
Paris' eyes lit up. "Yeah, that's a great place. They can have something delivered within forty-five minutes. That'll hit the spot."
"That'll rub the spot out, I bet."
Paris laughed. "Old man, you're in a mood today. What's gotten into you?"
"I don't know, Owen," he said honestly. "I'm just feeling a little more confident about all of this. I don't know why."
"If one of us starts feeling good about this," Paris said, ribbing his friend, "then we're in deep shit."
Patterson gave him a mock glare. "Go get lunch, before I throw you out of here, Owen?"
Paris laughed, flipping his friend a neat middle-finger salute.
Admiral Alynna Necheyav had taken her time in setting the next step in trying to find Seven of Nine, and in protecting her long-term interests in The Federation in re-branding in her image. A few extra days wouldn't hurt anything.
She had kept most of her allies at arm's length through this ordeal, but now she would call them in for their council. She had kept them informed, but had not included them in the decision making to this point.
The meeting that afternoon would determine the course of events. Admiral Shelby would be there, as she was going to continue to lead the fleet of Intrepid's, wherever they went to next. She also called in Admiral Richard Adams, whom she had gone to the Academy with, lo so many years ago. Also at the meeting would be Admiral Freya Weinrich, and Admiral Selvur of Vulcan.
She had also invited one other person, whom she had pardoned years ago from a prison sentence. This person had gone on his own killing spree-much larger than Seven of Nine could ever dream of, but Necheyav felt his heart had been in the right place.
Captain Benjamin Maxwell would never reach the rank of Admiral. He had ended any hope of that when destroying Cardassian ships, only to be hunted down by the Enterprise, under Jean-Luc Picard a few decades ago. He had been an adviser to Necheyav for years, which wasn't known outside her small circle of confidants. Like Necheyav, Maxwell had no love for Jean-Luc Picard or Will Riker. That mutual dislike is what made Necheyav pardon him some fifteen years ago, and get to know the man.
Her Chief-of-Staff, Captain Quinones, and, of course, Sloan, would also be at the meeting. They all knew each other. They had all met under one roof many times. This time, the string was out. They knew upcoming events could allow them to transform The Federation into what they all wanted.
Necheyav summarized events for everyone, just to make sure they were all up to speed. When she had finished, she opened the floor for comments. As expected, Sloan was the first to speak.
"Seems like it's time for Admiral Shelby to visit Fenris." It wasn't a question. It was more like a direct order, even though the Admiral's present didn't want to see it quite that way.
"Agreed," said Admiral Selvur. "They need to be persuaded to either hand over the former drone, or to give us her location."
"What if they don't know her location?" Admiral Freya Weinrich had always been a hard-liner within The Federation, even during it's least hard moments. "I would think if she's not there, the Borg wouldn't let them in on where she's at."
"I would be surprised," Maxwell said, jumping in, "if they didn't have a way to contact Seven. We've always felt the Rangers have a subspace transmission capability to contact members. I'm sure we could...persuade them that it's in their best interest to tell us how to contact her."
Admiral Adams concurred. "Years ago, American President Theodore Roosevelt coined the phrase, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick.'." He looked around the room, not everyone getting it. "We need to head to Fenris with words of cooperation and understanding in working with the Fenris government, and the Rangers, but they need to know if they don't play our game, they'll be in for a world of hurt."
"A bouquet of roses, with a phaser set to kill buried within it." Sloan liked this heavy-handed idea. It's what he wanted The Federation to be predicated on. "Who will assign the ships to be deployed?"
Necheyav handled that. "I will set up the task force parameters, and the actual ships to be used is up to Admiral Patterson, who is in charge of rotating ships to and from the Terran Sector."
"Do you trust Patterson?"
Necheyav turned to Admiral Shelby. "Elizabeth, Patterson is a dinosaur within the ranks. He's harmless, and he moves the ships where we need them. He won't be any wiser. I'll tell him what I want, and he'll deliver it to me."
"Then may I suggest that we go on the lines of the plan I outlined to you a short while back, Admiral Necheyav: four or five Intrepid's, to lead the diplomatic mission, with Galaxy Class, or Sovereign Class, or a combination of both, along with troop transports, to be close by if we need to commence military action."
Necheyav scanned the room? Any more questions? Anyone opposed?
The room was silent.
"Very well, I'll have Captain Quinones and his operations specialists put together a order of battle-hopefully which won't be needed-and to begin the process of getting this fleet to sail toward Fenris. Admiral Shelby." She turned to the younger women. "Give a copy of the full brief to Quinones, and then request from Patterson the makeup of your fleet. I want this fleet to sail within two weeks. Dismissed, everyone."
A few hours later, Admiral Patterson contacted Jellico.
"Ed, Shelby just sent me a request to assign ships to a fleet that will sail for Fenris within two weeks."
Jellico let out a long breath. "So, it begins. What is she asking for?"
Patterson glanced at his PADD. "Let's see: five Intrepid Class, led by Voyager as the Flagship; another five composed if a combination of Galaxy Class and Sovereign Class, or even five of one of the two classes; three of our large Class 26 troop transports, that can hold about five-thousand ground troops per."
"She's going in loaded for bear," Jellico observed. "I don't suppose she sent over her Op Plan for the trip?"
"Not on your life, Ed," the other Admiral said with a chuckle. "Necheyav or a proxy always tell me the makeup of any fleet she wants, and I assign the ships. It's worked well for years, and I see no reason to futz it up now."
"Agreed. Thanks for the update, Mike," Jellico said gratefully. "I assume you'll have Owen help work out the rotations for this fleet, and for those loyal to us?"
"I've already called Owen to stop by tomorrow afternoon. We've been setting up the chess board for some while, so this won't be too difficult."
"Very well, Mike," Jellico said to conclude the call, "I have others to get this information to. Give me any updates you might have. Jellico out."
The waiting was killing Seven.
She wanted to be hunting for an XB facility, but right at the moment, they were holding tight, waiting for other moves to be made first. She understood it. She accepted it. She didn't have to like it.
She and Janeway were back on Vulcan, where the Phantom, along with Tom, B'Elanna, and The Doctor from Icheb I were waiting to head to the Terran System. Seven, B'Elanna, and The Doctor had worked out the adjustments that would be needed on Seven's cortical node when they entered the Terran System. The idea was, as Seven had told Admiral Jellico and the others at the meeting a while back, that it wouldn't make any drones physically react, but would be like a passive sonar, which would bounce the location of the contact back to Seven.
If Seven received a host of contacts in a concentrated area, that's where they would concentrate their resources.
They couldn't test it on live drones, but had run, so far, eleven separate dress rehearsals, and each one had shown that Seven would receive information from any drones. With the news that a Federation fleet, with Shelby at the helm, would sail from Sector 0-0-1 shortly, it was time for them to work on an infiltration plan for if and when they discovered an installation.
While Seven, B'Elanna, and The Doctor had been working on Seven's cortical node, Janeway, Tuvok and Tom had been devising different scenarios they might face. If they were lucky, the might get a layout of any facility before they invested it while still cloaked, and could then plan accordingly. At the moment, the best they could do is step up their conditioning, with some running, and even lifting a few weights to tone up what might have gone a little soft. This would be no cake-walk, and they knew it. They'd need to be razor-sharp, mentally and physically, to pull this off.
The six physical beings had been exercising extensively in the interim, knowing they needed to be in top physical shape for this mission. It wouldn't be easy, and it most likely would be highly dangerous. Tuvok led them daily in long runs and other exercises. Tuvok, Seven, and B'Elanna could easily adapt to the heat that permeated Vulcan this time of year. Tom, and, especially Kathryn, were more limited due to the climate, and Janeway also by her age.
After a through workout one afternoon, they cleaned up, then met for an early dinner.
"Tuvok," Janeway huffed, still aching from the physical exertion, "if I didn't know better, I'd say you're trying to kill me."
Always the smart-ass, Tom couldn't resist. "Come on, Kathryn, you're not doing as much as those three." He nodded over to his wife, Seven, and Tuvok. "I'm not doing as much as they are. Do you see me complaining?"
B'Elanna snorted a laugh. "He'll complain enough when we're alone, Kathryn," she said with her famous smile. "Men are whiners that way."
"And remember Tom," Kathryn said with maybe a Force Four glare, "I'm fifteen years your senior, so buzz off." The smile that lit up her face told Paris she was teasing him on the up-and-up, and everyone, save Tuvok, chuckled.
"I must confess, B'Elanna," Tuvok said, looking mildly hurt, "I am a man, and I have never whined in my life. I should be offended by those words."
And people say Vulcans have no sense of humor, Janeway thought with amusement.
"What you just did?" She glanced at the others, winking, "that's whining."
Everyone else burst out in loud laughter, Tuvok looking even more insulted.
After the hilarity died down, the discussion turned more serious.
"We need to work out our own timetable now, now that Shelby will be moving soon," Janeway advised them, going into command mode. "It's too soon right now, but we need to begin our journey shortly after they pass Vulcan, on their way to Fenris."
"Agreed," Seven said, finally joining the discussion. "Even with two cloaked ships, I don't want to take the chance of someone in Shelby's fleet somehow catching on that we're out there."
"May I remind everyone," Tuvok noted, "that, more than likely, the larger starships, and the troop transports will depart a few days after Shelby's fleet of Intrepid Class ships."
"Good point, Tuvok," B'Elanna noted. "Let them get by us, then we can begin our little trip." B'Elanna turned to Seven. "Blondie, what say you and I try to enhance our weapons systems a little? I'm sure we can add a little punch to our ships."
Seven smiled. "Sounds like you're in the mood to argue, Klingon?" She tried to stifle a laugh.
"Bring it on, Borg," B'Elanna retorted, failing to keep down her own laugh.
"Do you believe the two of you can improve the weapons?"
"I do, Kathryn," B'Elanna said confidently. "I think we can get the yield on the photon torpedoes up about fifteen percent, maybe twenty, and I believe we can improve the multi-phasic weapons by maybe ten percent. The shields are already better than anything Starfleet has, and the cloak, right now, is as good as it is gonna get."
"Very well," Janeway nodded at the two ladies. "You two can get started first thing in the morning. Also," Kathryn noted, almost as an afterthought, "I want all of us to get some stick time in on these ships. I know all of us can fly these birds, but I want everyone to be ready to pilot in case of any emergency, understood?"
"The Captain-or should I say, the Admiral has spoken." Tom gave his dear friend a mischievous smile, Janeway rolling her eyes.
"From this moment on, my friends," Kathryn concluded, "consider ourselves on Red Alert."
No one argued that point.
Several days after Necheyav had set the date for Shelby's fleet to depart for Fenris, she had been presiding over a ceremony in the courtyard of Federation Headquarters, rededicating a statute to Zefram Cochrane. The statute had been in need of repair, and Necheyav had commissioned an artist to not only restore the image, but to enlarge the image of the first human ever to fly at Warp.
In the crowd was Sloan. No one knew him, and there were several thousand ordinary people around him. He understood the importance of Cochrane, and how what that man had done had impacted his own life, although in ways that no one in the crowd, or even Necheyav could comprehend.
As Necheyav delivered the keynote, Sloan watched her closely. The only person who knew at least a little of who she was was Necheyav. When he had been known as Robert Aurelius, he had been as hawkish as anyone in the government. Many observers felt he had been supporting Necheyav's policy, and, to a degree, that was true. However, he had radicalized Necheyav, not the other way around, building on her fear of The Borg, and mistrust of other races and peoples.
Such distrust came naturally to a person raised on Romulus. It was as normal as breathing oxygen.
He no longer needed to carry out his original mission that the now-departed (at least officially) Tal Shiar, had laid out for him more than two decades ago. Romulus was no more. The Romulan people were still trying to coalesce into one people again, but as things stood, it would be decades, if ever, before that happened. It was in the self-interest of The Federation, of Cardassia (what remained of it), the Klingon Empire, The Ferengi Alliance, and even the Breen, to keep the Romulans wandering in the desert of space, as surely as the Israeli God Yahweh had kept that people wandering in the desert for forty years.
Sloan's new mission was to be The Federation: to make it into a entity so powerful, and so feared in a way that the Romulans, Klingons, and Cardassians had never dreamed of during the height of their own glory. Left to Sloan, not only would the Romulans forever wander the Quadrant, so would the other enemies of The Federation.
He wanted Seven of Nine, and to a lesser extent, any XB he could get his hands on, for one purpose: to challenge The Borg for supremacy in the known galaxy. Seven, he felt, was the key to making that happen.
Necheyav may not know it, but she would, like everyone else, be swept aside when the time was right. In the end, Sloan would sit atop this gargantuan, to decide the fate of peoples who, at least today, didn't even know the Federation existed.
After Necheyav's speech, crowds gathered around the new statute, the band from Zefram Cochrane High School, in Butte, Montana, his hometown, providing sound. As the crowds buzzed around, Sloan approached Necheyav as she was ascending the scaffolding from which her speech had been made.
"You could always give a rousing speech, Alynna," the man said, genuinely meaning it for once.
"Oh, zip it, Sloan," she said in a tone that wasn't quite the same. "I'm surprised you even listened to it."
"On the contrary, my dear Admiral," he said with a hearty fulsomeness, "I admire Cochrane, and I know you do, too. It was a fitting speech. This new statue is a marked improvement over the original."
Necheyav turned to look at the imposing figure of Cochrane. "It is, isn't it?" For once, they had a shared amusement. "What brings you by to talk to me, Sloan?"
"I just wanted to let you know that I'm taking a four-day vacation this weekend, and will be out of touch. And before you ask," he said with a smug smile, "I am actually going somewhere to relax. Lord knows things are gonna get crazy, and I need a little R&R."
Necheyav gave a derisive snort of laughter. "I can't imagine what you do to 'relax', Sloan. I'm kind of afraid to ask."
He simply laughed back. "Just some sun and some surf. You should try to relax every now and then, Admiral. Looks like you could use it."
Without waiting for her reply, he turned and walked away, leaving a seething Admiral Necheyav behind.
Someday, the Admiral thought icily, that bastard is going to go too far.
Among those who had gathered to witness the unveiling of the new and improved Cochrane statue, of course, were media from many parts of The Federation. Even the stoic Vulcans had sent a news crew, to document the event, which, of course, involved Vulcans.
Among those from Earth present was the Galaxy News Network, which broadcast to one-hundred and ten planets that were Federation members, and to over one-hundred billion people throughout the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. They were considered the best of all the news services in the Terran System.
One of their camera operators had climbed the scaffold where the VIP's had sat, and where Necheyav had given her well-received speech. She panned her small recording device across the crowed, stopping a few times on the new statute. She zoomed in on small children looking up in awe at the twenty foot likeness of Cochrane, laughing at the looks on their faces.
Before leaving, she spotted Necheyav near a crowd of people, seemingly talking to a member of the gathering. The conversation seemed to be cordial, at least from her view. She stayed on the two people for about fifteen seconds, the man almost looking directly in the camera, or so it seemed. He didn't seem to react to her presence on the platform.
A short while later, she transported to GNN's Los Angeles office, to edit the recording for later broadcast.
That night, at 1930, GNN's Earth Today, their Prime-Time news broadcast, aired the story with the video as the fourth story of the night.
The Next Morning
Will Riker and Deanna both usually rose about 0700, and today was no different at their home on the Costa Del Sol of Spain. Will was the chef, and Deanna knew it, and she loved how he always strove to make her the perfect breakfast.
Once the food was served, they both sat down to watch GNN's Prime-Time news from the night before, to catch up what they might have missed over night. Usually the couple talked over the broadcast, unless something extremely important was being discussed.
About fifteen minutes in, Deanna rose from the kitchen table, to grab herself another grape juice. He sweet tooth didn't just extend to chocolate.
"Deanna, if you can, I'll take an orange juice, if we still have some."
"I got it, Will. I'll be out in a second."
Just as Deanna arrived back in the kitchen nook, the story turned to the unveiling of the Cochrane statute in San Francisco.
"Damn," Riker said, looking impressed, "that new statute has got to be at least five feet taller, and about ten feet wider than the old one. That's impressive."
"It's beautiful-or, as beautiful as they can make old Zefram look."
They both shared a knowing look, while approving of how much the image looked like the man himself. They knew what he looked like. No one from the Enterprise ever talked about it, but seeing Cochrane meet the Vulcans-actually being there-was one of the special moments of all their lives.
"Yeah, he wasn't exactly dressed to kill, was he?"
They both laughed at the inside quip.
As they drank their juices, the camera showed Admiral Necheyav, in conversation with someone, below where the video was shot.
"There's your girlfriend, Will," Deanna said, deadpan.
Will gave his wife a mock shock look. "Oh, yeah. How did you find out?"
Deanna had just taken a drink of her juice, and almost spit it out, as she laughed uproariously. "If you're going behind my back to see that, I've lost all respect for you."
"C'mon, Deanna, you're my only girlfriend, you know that."
He had never lost the cherubic cheeks, and the twinkle in her smile. It was one thing she loved most about him.
"Speaking of your girl, who is that with her, Will? Doesn't look like just a passer-by."
That stopped Will cold, although for a moment, he didn't know why. Then a light went on in his head. He looked at his wife with dead-serious eyes, all the fun of a moment ago gone.
"I've seen Alynna countless times at or around Headquarters, with all kinds of people, Deanna." He stopped to think it through. "I don't ever recall seeing that guy. And I don't think they're exchanging pleasantries."
"Could be anyone, Will," Deanna said with a shrug, then she got the look in his eyes. "Will, you can't seriously think..."
"Necheyav doesn't stop to talk to complete strangers on Federation turf. She know that guy-I can tell by their body language."
"Your thinking...no way."
"Maybe, we've just been given our first glance at Sloan?"
Immediately after seeing the news story on Necheyav, Admiral Riker, contacted Jellico. He filled in the Admiral on what he had seen.
"You've never seen this guy before, Will? Ever?"
Will shook his head, "Never, Ed." He had rarely seen Jellico look even a little excited.
"You're thinking this might be Sloan?"
"I have no idea, Ed, but the fact is, not everyone gets that physically close to the C-in-C of Starfleet. You can see them conversing as well."
"What's your next move on this?"
"I need to get this enhanced at a secure location. I was thinking of taking it directly to Vulcan and have Mr. Tuvok look at it. I don't want to take the chance of doing it here on Earth. Just to be on the safe side."
Jellico nodded. "I will contact him. I do know that Janeway and Seven were going to be heading to Vulcan in the very near future, as they want to start their part of this operation. I also suggest that we have you rendezvous with Janeway and Seven, and hop aboard their ship, the Phantom to get there. This has to be very covert. We'll come up with a story for you to leave the planet. I guarantee you Necheyav is getting nervous about all this, and will want to know why you're leaving."
"Deanna and I haven't had a nice vacation in a while off-world," Will said with a wink. "I can't think of a better time for that."
Jellico snickered, shaking his head. "We'll start from that premise. I will contact Janeway, and advise her to be ready to leave the outpost to rendezvous with you, then head to Vulcan."
"Anything new on the fleet sailing toward Fenris?"
Jellico again shook his head. "No. They're taking their merry time getting there, which I'm sure is another psychological move on Necheyav's part, to make them sweat."
"Agreed. OK, let me know when you want Deanna and I to move. We're ready when you are."
Within three hours, Jellico had sent encoded messages to Tuvok and Janeway, advising them that the latter needed to move post-haste to pick up an unnamed passenger, then to head to Vulcan. No other information was offered.
The message from Jellico had surprised both Seven and Kathryn.
"All I can think of, Seven, is that something unexpected has just happened, and that information needs to get to Vulcan as soon as possible."
"We didn't even get a hint of what is going on and who we're meeting. I find that pretty damned strange, Kathryn."
"Maybe," the redhead responded evenly, "but these aren't normal times. Obviously, this information is too damned important to send via even a heavily encoded message. Something serious is taking place."
The next day, they received orders to be at the Earth colony New Sausilito in four days time, which means they'd have to leave no later than the next morning. The communication didn't mention who they would be meeting, but a location on the planet was selected. Jellico said they'd know who they were picking up when they saw them.
Three Days Later
In truth, Will and Deanna did have some friends on New Sausilito, whom they hadn't seen in a number of years. They had left within hours of his conversation with Jellico, quickly working out the details. He had even contacted his friends there, saying they would be staying there for a few days. If Necheyav was eavesdropping, it would look to be on the up-and-up.
They arrived there, a full two-and-a-half days before Janeway and Seven were to be there, and they did visit their friends for those two days. There was no indication that anyone was interested in their movements, despite the looming crisis with Fenris, and they truly enjoyed their time with their old friends. Had they had the luxury, they would have loved to spend more time in such good company.
But there was business to attend to. Very serious business.
Two Days Later
"Kathryn," Seven altered her crew mate, "we have received the short-burst transmission from the surface, verifying our landing location. We will be there in thirty minutes."
Janeway tersely nodded. "If you don't mind, Seven, I'm gonna bring The Doctor online. We were going to do that anyway in a few days, but he'll need to know about this."
In a few moments, the former Voyager EMH was active. "Ah, free again," he said quaintly. At one point in his existence, he hated to be left on. Now, he hated to be de-activated.
"We were planning to bring you back up in a few days, old friend," Janeway explained, "but there's been a slight change in plans. We'll be landing at New Sausilito in half an hour, to pick up someone and take them to Vulcan."
"Who will our guests be?"
"That's the rub," Seven joined in. "Jellico hasn't told us. Something big is going on, and we haven't been told much. We'll find out in a half hour, I guess."
"Now you know how I felt so many times on Voyager, when I wasn't in the loop." Even after all these years, he still had the ability to be petulant at times.
Janeway just shook her head. "Not now, Doctor. Whatever is happening, it's serious, and we need to be ready."
Within thirty minutes, Seven had the Phantom beginning its approach to New Sausilito.
Will and Deanna had been waiting at the home of their friend, when the signal from Janeway and Seven of Nine was received. It was a half-mile walk to where the Phantom would land. They were in no hurry, as the ship would take another fifteen minutes to land.
They were able to clearly see the ship approach and touch down, when they were still about a quarter of a mile away.
"Think they'll be surprised?" Deanna gave a sideways smirk to her husband.
"If I know Janeway, her eyes will pop out of their sockets," he responded with a chuckle.
Seven and Janeway powered down the Phantom, then exited the ship. When they reached terra firma, they did see two people walking toward them. Riker had been close-Janeway's eyes flew open in recognition, in a moment of deja vu from when she had arrived on Malaga months ago.
"Will I'll be damned, it's Will and Deanna."
"Admiral Riker, and his wife, Deanna Troi?"
Kathryn looked over at Seven with a smile. "The very same. I do believe something very important is going on Seven."
Janeway burst out in a laugh, again caught off-guard by Seven's very human mannerisms.
"Kathryn, we meet again," Will said, going up to her, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "We have to stop meeting like this." He looked over to his wife. "Deanna might start to get suspicious."
Deanna just laughed. "You're in no danger, Kathryn," the Betazoid said, giving her own hug and kiss to Janeway. "I have him wrapped around my finger."
"I believe that," Janeway said with a laugh. "Will, Deanna, I'd like you to meet Seven of Nine, former Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix One, the most incredible astrometrics officer anyone could have had, and all-around good egg."
The last line made Seven blush and roll her eyes.
Riker stepped up to Seven. "Hello, Seven of Nine. We briefly met years ago, but it is my honor to meet you again." He gave her a kiss on the cheek. "You're among friends."
"The honor is mine, Admiral Riker," Seven said, emotion building up in her, finally being able to see that, yes, there were others that were with her. "And you have my eternal thanks for your assistance in getting me out of the mess I got myself into."
Everyone lightly laughed.
Deanna approached the younger woman. "Hello, Seven, I'm happy to meet you. As Will said, you're among friends."
"Thank you, Counselor Troi," Seven said, feeling a warmth come over her, as if she had an immediate connection with this woman. "I am wondering, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, if you and I had a chance to...privately talk?"
Janeway was proud of Seven at that moment. She needed to talk to a Counselor. Seven had realized that, and there was none better than Deanna Troi. Janeway began to feel even more confident that Seven was on the right track.
"Absolutely, Seven," Deanna said with a broad smile. "I'd be delighted."
"OK, Will," Janeway said, bringing things to the business at hand. "What's this all about?"
Riker smiled. "Tell you what, Kathryn, let's beam our belongings onboard, and before we lift off, I'll fill you and Seven in."
"Deal. I didn't think this was just to have a nice reunion."
"I wish it were, Kathryn, but, no, it could possibly by huge."
Within an hour, Riker had filled in the two women, both of them fascinated by what Will had seen, and it had fascinated the woman.
"Yet right now, this is all pure conjecture," Janeway summed it up. "Although I agree, your average person off the street doesn't approach Necheyav like that, and dive into easy conversation. She knows this guy."
"I agree," Seven said, knowing she could be looking at the person who had sent Bjayzl on her mission to seduce Seven, which had led to Icheb's death. "If this is Sloan, I can tell you, I'd like to have a very personal conversation with the man." She could not hide the anger and pain on her face.
"For that, I don't blame you, Seven," Deanna said sympathetically. "I've heard the rumors that Sloan hired this Bjayzl, and I'd want that same conversation with the man, if I were in your shoes."
"So we need to get this to Tuvok, who has a network that doesn't exactly overlay with ours," Will said. "He can get it to more people, and the more people who see it, well, perhaps we can find out something important."
"You could have sent this information form Earth, Admiral," Seven noted.
Riker nodded. "I didn't want to take the chance, Seven. That's why I wanted to get it to Tuvok, so keep it off the normal Federation channels."
Janeway understood his concern, and also knew another reason he wanted to send it away from Earth. "You want Jean-Luc to take a look at this, don't you?"
Riker smiled. "You might make a good officer some day, Janeway," he said on the sly, making Kathryn laugh. "Yes, that's one of the main reasons why we're doing this. We did send a encrypted message to the La Sirena while we were visiting our friends here. Jean-Luc will meet us briefly on Vulcan, where I will fill him in, and he'll see where it leads him."
"Then we better get under way," Janeway announced. "It'll be about sixty hours for us to get there."
Once on Vulcan, Will immediately showed Tuvok, Tom, and B'Elanna the video and still images of the man with Necheyav. Like everyone else who had seen them, the consensus remained the same.
"I am sure the conventional wisdom has been that this is only circumstantial, but I agree," Tuvok told the group, "that it is worth investigating."
"And you say Picard is coming here shortly?"
"That's correct, B'Elanna," Janeway noted. "He should be here in two days, then we will return Will and Deanna to New Sausilito, then head back to Vulcan to...await events."
With that, Riker also summarized everything else for the group. They had been informed that Shelby's fleet would sail soon, but Riker, like any good commander, wanted to make sure everyone was up to speed.
"Sounds like we have a decent nucleus for our own fleet," Tom observed with a smile. "I'm glad Ayala and Nicoletti are gonna be in on this."
"I'm jealous she's getting an Intrepid," Kathryn said with a wry smirk, making the others, save Tuvok, chuckle. "But I think she's ready for the challenge."
"She'll have no choice," The Doctor quipped. "It's amazing to me that I haven't seen Susan nor Mike since we left Voyager, but now they're playing with the big boys."
"And I couldn't be prouder, Doctor," Janeway said, pride shining on her face. "I've always felt that the success of one's subordinates was an indication of how well a Commanding Officer performed, and it fills me with a lot of pride that they've done so well."
Tom couldn't resist. "I guess B'El and I have let you down, Kathryn." The grin on his face told Janeway he was ribbing her.
"Far from it, Tom," she reminded him. "We each have our own path to follow, and you two followed yours, and I'm as proud of you now as I've ever been."
At that moment, Seven felt decidedly small and embarrassed about the "path" that she had followed for so many years. She herself wasn't proud of the choices she had made, and yet, right now, she was surrounded by friends and supporters, who were trying to help her right that path.
That Janeway herself had, most likely, not lived up to her own expectations in the last twenty years, made Seven actually feel closer to her one-time mentor and friend. They both had disgraced themselves over the years, but they were together, now, trying to change the course of their lives, and they were doing so together.
Was it that simple?
The La Sirena made it safely to Vulcan, which meant that quite an astounding array of talent was present on Tuvok's home world. He had even mentioned to T'Pel that rarely had he been in the presence of so many great people, high praise from a Vulcan.
Picard joined the growing sentiment, as he, Will, Janeway, and Tuvok discussed the matter, while the others were enjoying a leisurely day together.
"That still leaves us with the dilemma of confirming any of this," Picard said evenly. "What are the chances that this is him. How do we find out. But I agree, we should run down leads on this-but we can't forget that this might have to take a back seat once Shelby starts moving toward Fenris."
"We've got a little time, insofar as that goes," Will assured him. "They're slated to shove off in about nine days."
"I suppose it can't hurt to show this to my crew, can it?"
Janeway shook her head. "Why not? It's not like any of us Brass know who this guy is? Maybe they know something."
"I'm impressed with the ships, and the list of Captains that Jellico has been able to persuade to work with us. From what I see, there's a lot of great ships, and even better people to come to our assistance."
"He hasn't told us," Riker added, "but I suspect Ed is wanting to be the C-in-C of the task force, if it's needed. I have no problem with that, unless anyone else objects."
"He's active Starfleet," Janeway noted. "Patterson might out-rank him, but Mike hasn't held down the bridge of a ship in a long time. Jellico is a lot more seasoned in that regard."
"Agreed, and I'm too old to rejoin and take the heat," Picard said wryly, making the two humans chuckle.
"I must agree with the Admiral," Tuvok said, nodding at Picard, "this is an impressive list of ships and Captains. I assume Admiral Jellico is working to enlarge this list?"
Riker nodded. "He is, Mr. Tuvok. I'm sure we'll have quite a few more ships after things start shaking out."
They discussed a few other subjects, and Tuvok persuaded Picard to have his crew remain for dinner before departing.
The dinner was quite lively, everyone taking time to relax, laugh, and enjoy a great meal and good conversation. Even Tuvok and T'Pel were relaxed and seemed to enjoy the get-together.
They all knew that the time for such merriment would not last much longer.
After the dinner, the crews of the La Sirena and the Phantom prepared to depart. Picard had not decided where he wanted to take Rios' ship, while Kathryn and Seven would return Will and Deanna to New Sausilito, where the couple would then hitch a ride back to Earth, the Phantom then returning to Vulcan afterward.
First thing he did after the festivities was to show the video and still images of the mystery man to his crew.
"He looks like any ordinary guy," Agnes Jurati said, unimpressed, "but then again, I guess I shouldn't expect anything else."
"JL," Raffi added, "come on, what are the chances that this guy, in that photo, could be the one guy we're looking for? I'm not saying there's no chance, but..."
"I'm sure if he were still around, Mr. Data would tell me the exact odds," Picard said with a sad smile, still remembering his last moments with Data. "And I agree, Raffi, but Will's right, not any one gets that close to Necheyav, even during a public gathering."
Raffi thought about it. "I wouldn't want to get close to that bitch," she spat. "She's pure evil."
Rios was listening, but he caught a glimpse of Elnor out of the corner of his eyes. The young man was staring at the image, as if in awe of it. He knew Elnor was an impressionable young man, but the intensity of the boy's face startled Cristobal.
He nudged Raffi with his elbow, Raffi looking at him in annoyance. "What was that for, Rios?"
Rios silently nodded his head toward Elnor. Raffi got it.
"JL," she said quietly, mimicking the same nod to Picard. Picard looked at Elnor with interest. Picard got up and moved next to the young man.
Elnor acted as if coming out of a trance. "Yes, sir?"
"You seem awfully interested in these images. What is it?"
"I don't know, Admiral," he said, as if still thinking things through. "Something familiar about that face."
"Take your time, Elnor," Raffi encouraged the young man that she had come to adore very quickly.
"Sir," he turned toward Picard. "How soon could we get this picture to Zani?"
That startled Picard. "To Zani? On Vashti?"
Picard looked over at the ship's captain. "Rios?"
Rios worked his virtual display. "We could be there in five days, at warp 7." He too, wondered what was up.
"Admiral," Elnor continued, "years ago, Zani showed me a photo of a human male, that she said was raised on Romulus, and trained by the Tal Shiar. It was a number of years ago that I saw the image, but..." He turned to his mentor, "this man looks a lot like him, at least that I remember."
Agnes paled. "A human? Raised on Vulcan? Trained by the Tal Shiar? Is that even possible?"
"I don't know all the details, but I'm sure Zani knows a lot more." He walked up to the images that were displayed, suddenly turning back to Picard. "We need to show these to Zani."
"Whoa," Rios exclaimed, wait a second, kid." He turned full-force to Picard. "Admiral, this isn't exactly the time to gallivant of on a wild goose chase, especially with Shelby getting ready to sail into what could be a war."
Picard studied first Elnor, then the images again. He himself had never heard of such a tale, and Rios could be right. But something, deep in the back of his mind, told him they needed to pursue this.
He came to a decision.
"Captain Rios," he said, in his full command voice, Rios instinctively straightening up in his chair. "We need to get to Vashti post-haste. Make it so."
The Phantom had cleared Vulcan space a few hours before Picard talked to his crew and had made the decision to head into Romulan space. The three Humans, one Betazoid, and the Hologram were discussing their meeting on Vulcan, when a message came through from Jean-Luc.
They were all gathered in The Bridge when Seven, manning the helm, received the message. She scanned it, and turned to the others.
"This is from Picard. They have just left Vulcan, and are headed to Vashti, inside Romulan space."
"That's what the message says, Doctor," Seven replied evenly. "Vashti is a Romulan refugee planet, and it's also the base for the Qowat Milat. In fact, the young man Elnor that you met, he was raised and trained by the Qowat Milat."
"I thought the Qowat Milat was comprised of all women?" Kathryn hadn't heard much about the group, but they did have a fierce reputation.
"Yes, that is true, Kathryn," Seven confirmed. "Elnor is not one of them, but he was raised by one of them. Despite his rather...innocent demeanor, he's a lethal warrior, and he's completely loyal to Picard."
"I've heard about the training that group goes through," Riker added with a serious face. "I'd want them on my side in a fight."
"Seems to be they're allies of Jean-Luc," Kathryn noted. "Might come in handy some day."
"Did he say why he's headed to Vashti?" B'Elanna didn't see any connection to the current situation.
"He did not," Seven informed her friend. "He just said they had come upon some information, and to get some answers, they had to go to Vashti."
"Having known the man for almost four decades," Deanna said with a small smile, "I can tell you he doesn't go in for a wild goose chase. Whatever information he has, he must believe it has some credibility."
"Deanna's right," Janeway added. "Starfleet Captains and Admirals don't go for games. Something big is up."
"This seems to be the week for big," The Doctor snarked. "If it can prevent, or cut down on any possible war, I wish him luck."
"It depends on what a war would accomplish, Doctor," Janeway said, much to Seven's surprise.
"I didn't think you'd want any kind of war, Kathryn." Seven had no venom in her voice, but was merely curious.
"I certainly don't want a war, Seven, when you get right down to it, but if it's a choice between a war that keeps The Federation from turning into a monstrosity, or no war that helps Necheyav pervert an institution I hold dear, than I'll go to war. It's no contest."
"I've been programmed to do no harm," The Doctor added. "But I also have enough moral subroutines to understand and agree with what the Admiral said. I would imagine I'm kind of biased in one regard, that being that me and my doppelganger at Starfleet Medical might be de-compiled if Necheyav wins."
"Maybe not, Doctor," Seven said ominously.
"What do you mean, Seven?"
"Perhaps something worse?" She looked at the others. "If they win, and, if I may be so bold as to become biased myself for a moment, and if they get their hands on me, they may keep you around, erase your ethical subroutines, as Captain Ransom did on the Equinox, then having you pick me to pieces and study everything about my cortical node, without my cortical node being attached to me any longer."
Everyone understood what that meant. If The Doctor could have turned another shade of pale, he would have.
"If that looks like it will happen, Seven, Kathryn." He looked at his two dear friends. "Then destroy my matrix, and that of the other one, if at all possible. I'd rather die, in my own way, than to ever hurt Seven again."
Janeway and Seven could only nod their heads. Seven and The Doctor had just brought up the specter of what a win for Necheyav and Section 31 could mean.
Five Days Later
The last time Picard had been on Vashti, he had been accosted by members of the community, but had been saved by Elnor, something he would never forget. He hadn't seen Zani in years up to that point in time, and had profusely apologized to her for his failings.
Now, he was back, and he needed to talk with the leader of the Qowat Milat.
After a formal greeting, Zani escorted them to a secure location.
"This is an unexpected visit, Jean-Luc," Zani said, quite happy to see Picard and Elnor again, but not sure why the visit was taking place.
"Zani" Picard began, "I wish I had more time to spend time with you, and you to spend some with Elnor, but there is a serious situation building in The Federation. I would not have come here if I didn't think it was important."
With that, Picard pulled out a PADD, and in moments, the image of the man next to Necheyav appeared. "We've been trying to identify a person seen recently near the Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet. It may hold a large key to what's going on. Elnor told us you might recognize this person."
He slid the pad over to Zani. She studied it for a few moments, as carefully as she could. "I'm afraid that you've come a long way for nothing, I don't..."
She stopped cold, her face turning to stone.
"What is it, Zani?"
She studied the picture some more. "Jean-Luc, can you display this, perhaps onto the wall, to enlarge it?"
"I can," the man said. In moments, he had accomplished that task.
Zani studied it some more.
"The face looks slightly different, but...what did Elnor tell you?"
"He mentioned something about a human male that had been raised on Romulus. I know there's no record of any human being on Earth that fits that description."
Zani took a deep breath. "Years ago, Jean-Luc, it was rumored that the Tal Shiar had been training a human male on Romulus, to be an infiltrator into The Federation. The Qowat Milat investigated this, and we found out it was true."
She stood, moving toward the larger image on the wall. "We discovered that a human male had grown up on Romulus. His parents were from a Federation Starship that had been captured in a battle near Narendra III, in Klingon territory. The information was the parents of this child, who was born on Romulus, were members of the same crew as the woman who gave birth to Commander Sela, who I know you have encountered."
Those words sliced through Picard like a bolt of lightning. He thought back years to a conversation he had with Guinan, after first encountering Commander Sela.
Picard heard the doors close behind Beverly and Deanna. This story about this woman, this Sela, bothered him, but it wouldn't alter his course to keep the blockade running. The doors swished again, causing Picard to look up.
Guinan entered. "I hope I'm not intruding?"
"No, not at all," Picard eyed her. "Is something wrong?"
Guinan moved into his Ready Room. "News travels fast. I heard that Tasha Yar's daughter is aboard the Romulan ship?"
Picard gave her a humorless smile. "I think the Romulans are just hoping to create a distraction," he said confidently. "They want to keep us off balance."
"Hmm." Guinan looked up at the Captain. "How much do you know what happened to the last ship called Enterprise?"
"The Enterprise-C?" The conversation had taken an unexpected turn. "It was lost in the battle at Narendra III, defending a Klingon outpost from the Romulans."
"And the survivors?"
"There were stories about prisoners being taken back to Romulus, but they were only stories."
Guinan looked at Picard with an unusual certainty. "No," she said resolutely, "there were survivors. And Tasha Yar was one of them."
Picard blanched. "Guinan," he responded, becoming agitated, "that was twenty-three years ago. Tasha Yar was only a child."
Guinan nodded in understanding. "I know that. But I also know she was aboard that ship, and she was not a child. And I think," she continued, less sure of her footing, "that you sent her there."
Jean-Luc looked at her unconvinced. "How can that be?"
Guinan shook her head. "I don't know. I just know that you did."
Coming back to the present, Picard remembered not believing what Guinan had said all those years ago, but here was someone else, confirming, in essence what Guinan had said. He hadn't seen his old friend in years, but knowing Guinan, she could sense what was happening, and she'd be in touch with him soon.
"Do you have a name that goes with this person?"
"I do," Zani confirmed. "His name was Lucas Sheldon. I thought he had died with all the others on Romulus, but this...this could be him. I wish I could look him in the eyes. I'd know for sure."
Jean-Luc stopped the conversation for a moment, calling the La Sirena. "Picard to Raffi."
"Go ahead, JL?"
"Raffi, I need you to access the Federation data base. I need you to find the crew manifest for the U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701-C, that was destroyed near Narendra III some thirty or so years ago. I need to find out if anyone aboard that ship had the last name of Sheldon."
"I'm on it, JL. You better fill me in when you come back. This sounds interesting."
Zani gave him a small smile as he rolled his eyes. "I will if you get the information for me. Picard out."
"He was trained by the Tal Shiar? But the Tal Shiar doesn't organizationally exist any longer? When did he get to Earth? The man couldn't just become an adviser to Necheyav out of thin air."
He had almost been talking to himself, but hadn't realized Zani heard him. "That I cannot answer. I just know that he could be this man that was born on Romulus."
"So, in some ways, we're no closer to finding out about this man." Jean-Luc rubbed his chin in thought.
"I am sorry that I cannot be more sure about this, my friend," Zani said with a frown. "This seems quite important to you."
"It could be important for the future of the entire Quadrant, Zani. I still have a lot of questions, but I do believe you've helped me greatly."
Elnor was able to spend an hour with Zani before they departed, the older women happy that her former pupil had returned, even if for a short time.
Jean-Luc made her a promise when they were ready to beam out. "Zani, once all of this is behind us, I give you my word that Elnor and I will come for a longer visit."
"I understand you can't tell me much, Jean-Luc, but I also can sense this is deadly serious business. Please, you and Elnor, take care of each other?"
"We will, Zani."
When he and Elnor returned to their ship, Raffi met them, with a grim face.
"JL, I finished the search. Onboard the Enterprise-C were two Ensigns, both in engineering. Their names were Robert and Marissa Sheldon."
Agnes Jurati had programmed the synthetic Picard to be very human. She had done a good job. He paled when hearing that news.
Seven had some down-time late one evening, and was too keyed up to sleep. She made her way from Tuvok's home, where they were all staying, to the Phantom. The tall blonde had nothing specific in mind when making her way to the ship, she just needed some space.
She did a brief check of all ship's systems, even replacing one gel pack that seemed to be acting up, which only took her a scant few minutes. Seven had the replicator make her an Earl Gray tea, sitting down to sip it, simply thinking randomly.
The former heir to the Borg Throne had been wondering about this mystery surrounding the man Sloan. They might have caught a break and seen him in a news transmission, chatting with Admiral Necheyav, but they weren't one-hundred percent sure.
The story that Jean-Luc had transmitted after visiting Vashti had astounded all of them. It sounded like something out of an old Earth spy novel. Picard had not shared the information about how the boy came to be born on Romulus, or how he got there. But the rest, he shared in full.
Yet even if this was Sloan, how did a man, born on Romulus, trained by the Tal Shiar, end up on Earth to advise the Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet? It didn't make a whole lot of sense, and if Seven wanted anything in life, it was for things to make sense.
So where did this guy come from. She thought she'd have some fun with this, since she was an insomniac this night. She brought went to the holodeck on the ship, programming the PADD before beginning.
"Computer, based on this photograph, and that the human female pictured is 176 centimeters in height, extrapolate the approximate height, weight, and age of the human male in the photograph." Necheyav's bio said she was 176 centimeters.
A few moments later, the computer responded. "Based on the information given, the human male in the photograph is approximately 186 centimeters in height; 85.73 kilograms in weight, and approximately fifty years in age, as measured on Earth."
Seven studied that information while sipping on her tea. Jean-Luc mentioned that this person was trained by the Tal Shiar, so it's a given that Sloan is probably an alias. I wonder...
"Computer, based on those approximations, begin a search of Starfleet and Federation data bases, to find another human male that looks similar to this subject, that worked in either organization. Check records for the last twenty years."
She closed her eyes and sipped on the tea a little more, knowing it would take the computer a few moments to compare that much data.
Seven thought for a few moments about Icheb. Bjayzl had taken Seven for a sucker, and Seven had played the roll well. Try as she might, she couldn't blame Kathryn Janeway for her decisions after they fell away from each other, any more than Kathryn could blame Seven for her drinking and sex binge in Cuba. They were adults. They had made those decisions on their own.
Yet the grief and guilt that she still felt to this day over losing Icheb, whom she considered her son, would never go away-even if she and Kathryn became friends again. Even if, somehow, she and Kathryn became more than friends.
She knew with certainty that if she had ended up with Kathryn immediately after Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant, life couldn't have been any worse than what it was. Seven was also convinced that Icheb would still be alive, enjoying a burgeoning Starfleet career, and loved by two strong mothers, not by one very broken, jaded mother.
Years are supposed to make one wiser, but for Seven of Nine, former Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix One, and former heir to become Queen of the Borg, it had made her reckless in a way that would have embarrassed and shamed Icheb. For years, she had blamed Janeway for her lot, and for turning her back on her. But since Kathryn had found her again, it had become clear that she, and she alone was responsible. She alone had killed all those people, when the truth was that, after Bjayzl, who had deserved it, the others should be alive.
Her guilt and shame over what she had done, taking so many lives in a fit of rage, had dishonored not only herself. It had dishonored Icheb, whom she considered her son, and it dishonored everything that one strong, stubborn, good woman had taught her about what was good about humanity.
She didn't know what the future would hold for her, or if there were a future for she and Kathryn. But she would seek to live up to what she knew was right.
The computer beeped at her, bringing her out of her thoughts.
"File search complete. There are fourteen human males that fit an approximate match of the subject."
"Computer, display results on my terminal in my quarters, authorization Seven Tango-Three-Bravo.
In two minutes she had the information coming up on her screen. The results were a mixed bag, as she browsed the information.
Michael Strand, Captain, retired. Trained pilots for Starfleet on simulators. Robert James McCallen, deceased. Served as a civilian consultant for The Federation on land and building acquisitions. Bernhard Weber, head of maintenance at the Federation's Berlin office, retired...doubt that's him. Robert Aurelius, deceased, Federation Senator for ten years..."
That stopped Seven. "Computer, bring up full biography on Robert Aurelius, former Federation Senator, and display on this terminal."
In under a minute, Seven had read the entire thirty-thousand word file on Senator Aurelius.
Became a Senator at age thirty-five, served in the Senate for ten years. Senator Aurelius was a staunch supporter of Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Alynna Necheyav, and argued for a more aggressive policy by The Federation toward other species in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. He was killed in a shuttle accident. He left no survivors.
Again she queried the computer. "Computer, display personal biography of Senator Aurelius."
"Information retrieved. There is no biographical information of Senator Aurelius prior to the age of twenty-five Earth years."
"What the fuck..." Seven didn't curse much, but this information made no sense.
"Computer, based on the photo of the unidentified man in the first photo, and the biographical photographs of Senator Aurelius, estimate the likelihood that they are the same people."
"Working...there is a 91.2 percent match between the two subjects.
"Holy shit," Seven breathed. No, she didn't have concrete information, but something smelled fishy.
"Computer, pull up information pertaining to the shuttle accident that killed Senator Aurelius."
"Working...that information is Classified."
"Classified", Seven said out loud, disbelieving the answer. "How the hell is the death of a mere Senator classified?"
"That information is not available."
"I wasn't talking to you, goddammit."
Seven took a breath and thought it through. The man in the image with Necheyav was not known. However, Picard's friend on Vashti, Zani, had told him that the man in the photograph resembled a picture she had seen years ago of a human male raised on Romulus. Elnor had seen the resemblance and advised Picard to visit Zani. That could be a coincidence.
But now, just on a whim because she couldn't sleep, Seven had discovered that the man in the photograph looked a helluva lot like Senator Robert Aurelius, who had just happened to have been a major supporter of Necheyav. And Aurelius' death was classified.
She made a decision on the spot. The others wouldn't like it, as it was the middle of the night, but the needed to see this information, and see it now.
Seven was right: the others' didn't like it, but upon seeing the information she had acquired, they knew that something might be to this. They left it to the ever-logical Vulcan to state things first.
"As Seven said, this is circumstantial, at best, but the mere fact that the computer stated a high probability of a match is worth investigating."
"Yeah," Tom said with some exasperation, "but how do we investigate it?"
"We gather as much information as we can find on the late Senator: images, speeches, his positions on different issues."
"We can do all that, Seven," B'Elanna noted, "but it still doesn't mean that the guy Picard's friend saw in this image is this."
"That is correct, B'Elanna," Tuvok agreed, however, there are DNA samples of anyone who worked for The Federation or Starfleet, going all the way back to Zefram Cochrane. We can access the DNA of Senator Aurelius. That would be half of what is required."
"I would say getting the other half would be next to impossible," Seven reminded them. "We've seen this man in one image, and his doppelganger in a few photos of the late Senator. We don't know anything about Sloan to get us close to him."
"Agreed. However we do have someone in place within Starfleet Medical, who might be able to discreetly see if there's any medical information on Sloan."
They all looked at Tuvok as if his ears had suddenly gone round.
"Dr. Crusher is no longer at Starfleet Medical," Seven objected. "She's back onboard the Enterprise."
"I was not referring to Dr. Crusher," Tuvok countered, turning toward the holographic doctor.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Speaking of doppelgangers, Seven," he said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Despite the tension, Seven couldn't help but laugh. "Every doppelganger has it's day, I guess, Doc."
Tom and B'Elanna snickered at Seven's comment.
The former EMH turned to Tuvok. "So how do you propose to get my twin to find out about Sloan? He can't just snap his fingers and be there."
"No, he cannot. I must admit, this thought just entered my mind when Seven said the word doppelganger. But we might want to consider even a remote possibility involving the EMH in San Francisco."
"Thing might move too fast for anything to come of this, Tuvok," B'Elanna reminded all of them. "But it can't hurt to investigate. After all, we do have resources on Earth that have access to Starfleet Medical...right, Tom?"
Now the light bulb went on inside Tom's mind. "My dad." He looked around at the others. "Dad would be willing to do this, but we'd have to find a pretext to get him there, to be able to initiate the EMH, and somehow program him to help us. None of that will be easy."
"I suggest we contact your father, Mr. Paris, and at least advise him of our ideas on this. Again, as B'Elanna stated, we may not have the time to attempt such a deception, and try to obtain Sloan's DNA-if it is even stored on a normal data base-but he may have some other ideas on the subject."
Within minutes, Tom had sent a Borg encrypted subspace message to Admiral Paris, letting him know about their little idea.
Jean-Luc Picard had been quite shaken by what he had heard on Vashti. Not simply that a man who could have been raised on Romulus, and trained by the Tal Shiar was an advisor to the C-in-C of Starfleet, and could be the head of Section 31, but that he himself-somehow-had set in motion the events that had led to this. Guinan had hinted at this thirty years ago. He hadn't believed it then, and continued to not believe it.
That had changed with Zani's words on Vashti. Somehow, in the past, in what had to be an alternate timeline, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, had put Tasha Yar aboard the Enterprise-C, where she, and apparently at least two other crew members, had been held by the Romulans.
Yet he had no conscious memory of that. He didn't know how to get at such a memory, if it existed somehow. It frustrated him beyond belief.
He also knew he had to move on from it, at least as far as the present situation was concerned. Perhaps he could deal with it later. Maybe he could find Guinan again, and somehow come to terms with it. But he had bigger fish to fry right now.
He had informed Admiral Jellico and Admiral Janeway that he was committed to trying to turn the tide against what was becoming an authoritarian Federation government, and to stop the mistreatment of XB's in the Quadrant. Being a synth himself now, he felt even more determined to quash the brutal treatment of the former Borg, and also synthetic life forms.
Despite the fact he was no longer in Starfleet, his was an immensely powerful voice, especially on Earth. Like Kathryn Janeway, he was seen as a hero in so many regards, even as Necheyav hated him because The Borg had assimilated him before the Battle of Wolf 359.
As the La Sirena departed Vashti, Picard had not advised Rios where they were going. But has he thought more and more about the events taking place, he was coming to a decision. He knew where he belonged.
He left his holographic suite, overlooking his vineyard in France, and headed to the bridge. Raffi saw him first.
"Hey, JL," she said quietly, the others having been equally as stunned by what had transpired. "Get any rest?"
He shook his head. "No, not really. I've been doing a lot of thinking, about what Zani told me."
"Spooked you, too?" Raffi smiled at him.
"More than you can imagine, and I can't go into all the details about all the reasons why it spooked me, as you say."
"What?" Agnes gave a lopsided smile. "Hearing a human was raised on Romulus, worked for the Tal Shiar, and could be advising Necheyav wasn't enough?"
Picard chuckled, taking the sarcasm in the spirit it offered. "My dear Dr. Juarti, as I said, there's a lot more to it, at least from my end, to what spooked me. But I simply cannot go into it, because, quite frankly, I don't understand all if it myself."
"Must be pretty heavy," Raffi offered, still trying to make the conversation light. "You'll tell us if you want to, JL. Don't sweat it."
Raffi had been piloting, while Rios was getting some much-needed rest. About thirty minutes after Picard entered the bridge, the ship's captain arrived.
"You look like hell, Cris," Raffi said with a snicker. "You go around with a Nausican or something?"
Rios looked over at Agnes, whose eyes went wide. "Don't look at me, pal, I didn't keep you from sleeping-well, not this time."
Picard and Raffi snickered, Agnes turning red, Rios simply rolling his eyes.
"Is Elnor still asleep?"
"He is, JL," Raffi affirmed. "The visit took a little bit of an emotional toll on him. He was happy to visit his...family, but to only be there a short time, was a bummer."
"I know it was. Let him rest."
So, Admiral," Rios said, taking his seat next to Raffi, looking at his virtual display, "do we have any marching orders yet?"
"That's what I wanted to discuss with all of you."
"Uh-oh," Raffi said guardedly.
Jean-Luc smiled. "I have made up my mind where I want to go, but I'm under no illusions that I can order, or force any of you to stay with me. I know all of you are aware of how serious the situation is, and how much more serious it could get, and all of us, without exception, has to make our own decisions on this point."
"Elnor will go where you go, you know that, JL?"
That came from Soji, who spoke for the first time. "I know that, as he's sworn to protect me, but I will even offer him the choice."
"OK, Admiral," Agnes said with a sigh, "out with it?"
Very well." First he went to the replicator. "Computer, tea, Earl Gray, hot."
In moments he had the drink and sat back down. "I am going to see this through on Earth. I believe my voice still carries a lot of weight on Earth, and I can best oppose Necheyav by being back home."
There was silence in the room, but it wasn't one of shock. They had talked among themselves earlier, and they were quite certain that Picard wanted to go back home. It had been an arduous couple of months for all of them.
"Into the Lion's Den," Rios said ominously. "Jesus, Picard, do you ever take the easy way?"
"The easy was isn't a luxury given to a Starfleet Admiral, even a retired one, Cris. That's where my duty lies."
"Obviously, you're all from Earth," Soji said, "and obviously, I've never been there. I really have nowhere else to go."
"Your...unique skill set," Rios said carefully, "might come in handy on Earth in helping JL."
"You and Elnor could make quite a front for the Admiral," Agnes added.
"I don't want them to go to put them in harm's way," Picard objected, "but I will take whoever wants to go."
"Count me in," Raffi said without missing a beat. "I'll follow you where you'll lead, JL. I've never liked that bitch Necheyav anyway," she said with a devilish grin, making the others laugh.
"You're under no obligation, Raffi."
Raffi gave him a glare. "I'm going with you, JL. Don't you try to talk me out of it, you hear?"
"Earth is home," Agnes Jurati sad more soberly. "I've missed home. I've got nowhere else to go."
That made everyone look at Rios. The affair he and Agnes were having was not a secret-and had kept them up at nights, as they weren't exactly discreet sometimes.
"What are you guys looking at me for?"
Agnes simply gave him her own devilish grin. "You know, Cris, you're under no obligation, but..."
He turned beet red, which of course Agnes had wanted. Raffi snickered loudly.
Cris gave her a smile back. "Are you saying you have me wrapped around your finger or something, Juarti?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying, Captain."
Raffi again hooted a laugh, as did Soji. Picard just groaned.
Cris shook his head. "I guess I have no choice then." He smiled warmly at Agnes after the ribbing had ended. "I'm going with you, you know that?"
"Always knew it," Agnes said smugly.
"Children," Picard said, almost sotto voce. "Very well, Raffi, Rios, plot a course for home."
Admiral Owen Paris read, and re-read the scrambled message from his son, the information that could be about Sloan, rolling around in his mind. He had seen the images. No one dare acknowledge out loud that they had seen it, not inside Starfleet Headquarters. The encrypted transmission had come to his home, and he had put it on his PADD when he went to work. When he was done mulling over it, he would wipe the PADD clean of the information.
He knew Jellico and Patterson received the transmission as well, and, as soon as Riker returned from his "vacation," they would go over the merits of the information, including trying to come up with a way to find out if Sloan was, indeed, the late Senator Aurelius, and this mystery man from Romulus.
The story was something out of a trashy spy novel, Paris thought. He had actually laughed out loud first time he had read the details. But he knew Jean-Luc Picard didn't fall for trashy spy novels, except in his holographic activities. The man was still as sharp as anyone Paris knew, and he couldn't discount the man's instincts.
That was still only a sideshow for now, and they all knew it. With Shelby's fleet just days away from sailing, that had and would continue to occupy more of his time. He and Patterson were still moving the fleet as inconspicuously as possible. Patterson had done it for so long that Necheyav would be none the wiser. He knew Necheyav felt Patterson was simply a bumbling old fart, and would simply do as he was told.
He would-except not in a way Necheyav would have ever guessed.
"Admiral on The Bridge!"
"As you were," Admiral Elizabeth Shelby said back automatically. The Alpha Shift went back to work. "Mr. Johnson," she said to her Number One, "how are we doing?"
"Admiral," the man responded, "Engineering reports a minor problem in the magnetic constrictors, which should be corrected within a half hour. All other stations report green."
"Thank you, Commander," she said easily. "I'll be in my Ready Room. You have The Bridge."
Shelby stepped into her room. "Computer, tea, Earl Gray, hot." It always made her smile when ordering the wonderful liquid. Admiral Picard had hooked her on it years ago, and their falling out hadn't stopped her from having it quite often every day.
She thought about Picard and Will Riker. A large part of her regretted that they had become, for lack of a better word, adversaries. She admired both of them to this day, but Shelby had sincerely felt her views on what were now called XB's had been correct, and she had never regretted making her recommendations to Necheyav. They had severed the connection between them, to use a Borg analogy. She had simply done her duty.
She hoped, someday, to mend that fence. But she was a realist, and knew that might not be possible. She had to concede that they had felt as strongly about opposing her recommendations as she had been in giving them, and she didn't begrudge them that. Yet their rejection of her ideas and, in turn, of her, had only motivated her even more to prove her mettle, and that she had been right.
The truth was, she had almost vomited when Necheyav had told her about the death of the young man Icheb. She hadn't wanted that for anyone. Shelby had heard rumors that Bjayzl had been hired by The Federation to hunt down Icheb and Seven, but there was no proof of that. She didn't honestly believe that anyone in the organizations that she loved would be that brutal.
Then she remembered Sloan. She know nothing about the man. Less than nothing, except that he was an ally of Necheyav. The man personally made her skin crawl, for reasons she could not define, but their views were quite similar.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth Shelby had never been good or very cognizant of politics, and she didn't see the forest for the trees. She still felt The Federation was the noble entity it had always been, and couldn't even grasp the changes that she was helping to bring to fruition.
She was going to Fenris. She didn't want war. She simply wanted Seven of Nine, and that would end all of this bullshit that was going on. Shelby was well aware that a war was possible, and that if it came, she would carry out her duty.
One thing that made her breathe a little easier is that if war did come, there would be opposition back on Earth, but she wouldn't have to worry about either Picard or Riker. They were no longer active obstacles.
"Bridge to the Admiral".
"Sir, Engineering is reporting that repairs are complete."
"Acknowledged, Mr. Johnson."
Shelby re-entered The Bridge.
"Attention all hands, prepare to depart for Fenris. Shelby out."
The die was being cast.
Admiral Edward Jellico was just getting ready to retire for the evening. He had been going over some reports on the current situation, still intrigued about what Picard had heard.
As he was preparing to turn the lights out for the night, his computer warbled that he had an incoming, live video transmission. Few people could get him live, so he knew it had to be serious. When he flipped on the viewer, Mike Patterson was looking at him. His face was calm, but his words spelled trouble.
"Mike," Jellico said evenly, "I was just going to bed. You have something?"
"I do, Ed," he said with no drama. "The ships are sailing."
Jellico paused before answering. "Very well, time to start gathering our assets. I'll talk to you in the morning."
In moments, Patterson's visage faded from the screen. Ed Jellico knew sleep would be hard to come by this night.
On Vulcan, the mood of Janeway and the others darkened, as news that Shelby's fleet was departing for Fenris became known. They had obviously known this was coming, but like most other things, the actual even made everyone more jumpy.
"According to the information Admiral Patterson was able to send us," Janeway told her former crew, "Admiral Shelby's rear echelon of two Galaxy Class, and two Sovereign Class ships will pass us in approximately five days. We have to wait until they clear for us to move toward Earth."
"Five days," Seven said, almost to herself. The reality of the reckoning that lay ahead for her had made Seven as quite as anyone could remember. Everything that was happening right now, was because of her foolishness. Not in dispatching Bjayzl-she had deserved it. No, it was because of the others killed on Freecloud, at the Cardassian prison, and the Ferengi trading post. She alone had put this in motion.
Everyone gave her a wide berth for the moment, letting her process her thoughts.
"We will, as planned," Tuvok continued the conference, "leave Vulcan twelve Earth hours apart. The Phantom will pass by Earth, and circle back once it reaches Terra Nova. The Icheb I, with Tom, B'Elanna, and The Doctor, will approach Earth via the Tellerite Sector, swinging around the far side of Tyrellia. With our ships positioned in this way, we can easily scan the areas of the Muratas, Tellerite, Vulcan, and Terran Sectors that are within easy reach of Earth."
"The Phantom is the lead ship," Janeway continued. "I will adjust Seven's cortical node once we reach the Terran Sector. Unless Seven picks up something this side of Terra Nova, I will follow that route back to Earth. Our two ships will be within approximately ten hours of each other at all times. If Seven is able to locate an XB concentration, we approach it together, not one at a time. This gives us the best chance of success."
"If it is necessary," Tuvok added, "Admiral Jellico has advised us that we will have backup: at least on Galaxy or Sovereign Class ship, which can be dispatched rapidly. There will be a contingent of Starfleet Special Operations forces ready to assist us."
"Wow," B'Elanna said, about as impressed as she could remember. It took a lot to impress perhaps the best Engineer in the galaxy. "Simply one of those ships has a lot of firepower to help us. This thing is real, isn't it?"
"It is, B'Elanna," Janeway said seriously. "As real as it gets. Admiral Jellico has advised us that, currently, there are twenty-three ships of different sizes and classes that have been moved into or near the Terran Sector if they are needed."
"What defines 'needed', may I ask," The Doctor said pointedly. "I would assume there is a litmus test for that."
"There is, Doctor," Tuvok responded. "If a war with Fenris would occur, and spread beyond the appreciable area of Fenris, they could be called to action. If we are successful, and Seven finds a large concentration of former drones, in what looks to be a Federation facility, they could be summoned to protect our operation. They would, in essence, be like an ancient picket line from wars in the past-giving us warning if Necheyav is sending ships to interdict us."
"What about Picard and the La Sirena?" Tom hadn't forgotten about the legendary Admiral and his crazy band of misfits.
"The La Sirena will be used to augment our opposition force, if needed. As Admiral Jellico stated at our meeting a while back, Captain Rios will be given a "provisional" rank of Captain, and he will have loyal Starfleet personnel added to his ship. As for Picard," Tuvok finished, "he will be on Earth. What he will be doing has not been made known to us."
"He may not even know yet," Seven said, breaking out of her silence for the first time. "He has been through a lot lately, but he has never lost his...displeasure at where Necheyav has been leading The Federation. Perhaps he'll try to find Sloan?"
"Unknown at this time, Seven," Janeway added. "Jean-Luc can take care of himself. With Elnor and Soji as his shadows, pardon my language, but I wouldn't fuck with him. He's on a mission."
"Since when did you become such a potty-mouth, Kathryn," Tom said with a chuckle.
Seven gave Kathryn a knowing look, after the many conversations they had partaken in since their reunion. Neither one of them were the straight-laced people they had been on Voyager. Too much had happened to them.
"It comes from a lot of mistakes over the years, Tom," Kathryn said with thinned lips. "But it's an accurate description, I believe."
"Maybe I should give you those lessons in humanity that I gave Seven all those years ago, Captain," the Doctor said with his acerbic wit.
"Oh, I'd love to see that," Seven said, laughing over at Janeway, breaking the tension. Kathryn simply gave her a mock Force Ten Glare.
"That is all the information we have at the moment," Tuvok said, finishing the briefing. "We must be ready to depart shortly after the larger Federation ships the immediate vicinity of Vulcan. As of now, I believe, if we were still on Voyager, we'd be on Red Alert."
"You're damn right, Mr. Tuvok," Janeway said in her full command voice. "We're going to war, people."
Picard didn't have the luxury of a state-of-the-art cloaking device to hid the ship he was on. Nor did he have a slip-stream drive, or ablative armor. He had to admit that, what he did have, were two of the best pilots he had ever seen in Raffi Muskier and Cristobal Rios. They both had some issues, but they were nimble at the helm.
Ed Jellico had advised Rios that Earth's defenses were on a slightly higher alert level, with the Shelby fleet heading toward Fenris. They needed to be cautious, but not paranoid about approaching Earth. Even in a time of raised tension, there was so much space traffic heading to and from Earth that one single ship wasn't going to raise the hackles of The Federation, unless it was cubed-shaped.
The would put down in southern France near Toulouse, then catch a high-speed hover train from there to Malaga. Once there, Picard and his crew would confer with the four Admirals who had been key to organizing the resistance to Necheyav. He would let the four Admirals hear his idea on what he wanted to do, then allow Rios, Raffi and Agnes to be assigned a staff of Starfleet personnel that Jellico had picked himself, to make La Sirena part of this rebel fleet, if it was needed.
One thing Picard knew he'd have to take care of almost immediately, was a private audience with Deanna. Now that he was a synth, she wouldn't be able to use her empathic abilities that naturally came to her. She's sense nothing, and that would raise a red flag with Will's wife.
That was a conversation he was not looking forward to, but one that would be necessary.
The news had indeed reached Fenris. The government on that world had not yet informed the general public about the approaching crisis, but that would change in a matter of hours. Currently, the Prime Minister, Cyan Sladek, was meeting with General Larnek Grenthik, head of the Fenris Armed Forces, Commander Ani Besho, Commander of the Fenris Rangers, his Chief-of-Staff, and other aids. Qochur had been invited by the Prime Minister to attend.
Prime Minister Sladek called the meeting to order.
"General Grenthik," he said evenly, no apparent emotion in his voice, "can you give me a rundown of our current Order of Battle?"
The Prime Minister well knew himself what the current OrBat was, but he was a thorough man, and wanted everyone in the room to be up to speed.
"Prime Minister, our eight Sukkiv Class Destroyers are all operational, and fully loaded with personnel and weapons. Those ships, as you know, are pretty equal to Intrepid Class ships that are leading The Federation fleet." The General glanced down at his PADD. "We have fifteen of our Skylar Class Attack Cruisers operational. We have a total of nineteen, but four are currently going over an engine overhaul. Each cruiser has twenty fighters onboard for space combat.
"As for on the ground and within the atmosphere, we currently have twenty-eight combat divisions that are operational, and another six on reserve. We also have approximately three hundred Lynx Atmospheric fighter aircraft available."
"Commander Besho? The Rangers current OrBat?"
"Sir, by the time the Federation fleet arrives, we should have approximately forty Ranger ships in the vicinity of Fenris, at your service in case of a battle."
"Very good," the Prime Minister smiled. "Just before our meeting, the Federation Consulate delivered a formal diplomatic message from their government, staring that the fleet was heading to Fenris to, "discuss a delicate situation," and that they hope that "this situation can be resolved amicably."
Qochur gave a loud snort. He wasn't part of The Brass, but The Brass respected the man, and he had a free voice in such meetings. "Pardon me, Prime Minister, but that's a bunch of political lIngwI. They're telling us 'give us Seven of Nine, or we'll go to war, and, oh, if you don't have Seven of Nine, since we're already here, well too bad for you'."
General Grenthik tried to suppress his own snicker, but failed. "I would like to disagree with the man, Prime Minister," he said, smiling at the Klingon, "but he's probably right. I believe, eventually, they will commence hostilities."
"And let's remember," the Prime Minister reminded all of them, "that they have three Galaxy Class, two Sovereign Class, and four troop transport vessels a few days behind Admiral Shelby's Intrepid's. We have nothing that is equal to those starships."
"Whatever they bring," the General said, somewhat defensively, "we will fight them with everything they have."
"Oh, I have no doubt of that, Larnek," Cyan Sladek said soothingly. "I am not doubting our resolve, just stating a fact."
Others joined in the discussion, which lasted a good forty-five minutes. When it was finished, the man on the spot spoke one last time.
"Alright, everyone. General Grenthik," he turned directly to the man, "upon leaving this meeting, put our forces on Condition One, full war footing. Commander Besho," he turned to Ani, "contact your ships and inform them that, as of this moment, if they are within two light years of Fenris, that they are now under my command, per our long-standing agreement."
"I will inform the Senate leadership of the situation as soon as we're done here. After that, I will make a planet-wide broadcast to the people of Fenris, to prepare for war. Let's get moving, people."
The meeting adjourned, a Prime Minister, like so many leaders throughout history, sitting alone now, feeling the weight of his people on his shoulders on the eve of yet another conflict.
Three Days Later On Vulcan
It was lunchtime, and the former Voyager officers were relaxing after a morning workout. They were becoming very keyed up, knowing that the time of doing "nothing," as Seven had grown fond of saying, was coming to an end. Very soon, they would be facing a very serious situation.
T'Pel was hosting the lunch, which consisted of Iceberg lettuce, which the Vulcan grew in her garden, as well as a Italian-like dressing. They wanted to keep the meal light. The Doctor was onboard the Phantom, monitoring communications that may come in.
The conversation, despite the rising tension, was light, with lots of laughter, and in the case of Tuvok and T'Pel, raised eyebrows. Kathryn looked around proudly at Tuvok, B'Elanna, Tom, and Seven, realizing that she had been blessed to have had them in the Delta Quadrant. They had always given Kathryn Janeway all of the credit for getting them home, but Kathryn knew that every member of her Voyager crew had done as much work as she had to get home.
Seven, surprisingly, was very relaxed at the moment. Perhaps because she was ensconced among friends that she trusted-Kathryn not yet knowing if she herself was included in that definition quite yet-and was able to let her hair down. They saw a delightful, smiling, joking woman, comfortable in her skin, with so much to offer the Universe.
Kathryn and Seven had once had an unrequited love, that neither acted on while in the Delta Quadrant. By the time they had returned as heroes to the Alpha Quadrant, Seven had grown up enough, and had grown tired of waiting for Kathryn, so she had paired off with Chakotay.
That pairing had been part of the cause of a twenty-year rift between them. There was some light breaking through the storm that they had traversed, still a few cracks of lightning, and loud rumbles of thunder being heard now and then, but the storm was dying out. Their confessions to each other over the past few months, both of them realizing that the other had been, in their own way, to Hell and back, was bringing them to an understanding.
Watching Seven, Kathryn had to admit, she still loved Seven of Nine. Very much. She was doubtful they could ever find that feeling again, but Janeway knew if they did, she wouldn't forsake it this time for anything.
She was brought out of her reverie as The Doctor materialized near them.
"What is it, Doctor," Janeway said seriously.
"Monitoring Vulcan military frequencies, they just announced that the last Galaxy Class ship assigned to Admiral Shelby's fleet, has just passed through Vulcan space."
They all looked at each other momentarily, knowing that they had been through so many trials and tribulations when together. This was another one.
Kathryn looked over at Seven and Tuvok. "We leave in eight hours. Tom, B'Elanna, Doctor, you leave in fourteen hours. Here we go..."
The Ranger, Part 4: Unto The Breach
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